Let’s talk turkey | Do you even like Thanksgiving food? If you could make the menu, what would you have? What was the most memorable Thanksgiving? What was served?
In my family, Thanksgiving is The Main Event. Which is nice for a lot of reasons, one of them being that I am…not a Christmas person.
So it’s convenient to have Thanksgiving be the Main Holiday in my family, particularly because my partner is not American. For me and Paul, there’s no weird back-and-forth over Whose family are we going to spend Thanksgiving with? because there’s no such thing as Thanksgiving in Ireland.
All of this said, a few years ago, we had a Thanksgiving that I am still trying to forget.
It started innocently enough, which was that my Uncle Sam seemed to have a touch of stomach flu on the way up to Yosemite. (Recall, my family spends every Thanksgiving in Yosemite National Park. For years, we didn’t even have TV. I didn’t know what “Black Friday” was until I was in my mid-20s.)
When I finally arrived, my mother announced: Your Uncle Sam couldn’t even have a martini! As if that explained everything.
But that was just…the beginning.
Within about a day, the bug began to spread. And if you know me, you may know that I have a pathological aversion to vomit. In other words, being stuck in a cabin in the woods in a house full of people with the stomach flu was nothing short of my version of hell.
But we soldiered on! The family prepared Thanksgiving dinner as usual. Since, at that point, I hadn’t eaten Thanksgiving dinner in years (I find most holiday foods to be very unpleasant), I wasn’t planning on eating any of the turkey or stuffing prepared by people who had been recently ill anyway. However, we had friends coming from a nearby cabin who were bringing food to share. Thankfully, these folks did not have the Norwalk virus at their cabin. AND, much to my delight, they hated turkey as much as I did, so they were bringing lasagne.
I ate only lasagne that year.
We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, and then sat down to the annual viewing of Christmas Vacation. All was going well until my mother began to forcefully vomit.
It seemed like it might’ve been a one-off; maybe she’d picked something up before we left on our holiday. At the time, she was still a teacher, and everyone knows classroom teachers are exposed to all sorts of viruses. So we all kept watching the after-dinner movie and then went to bed. But by the time I woke up on the Friday after Thanksgiving to hear my brother re-tasting turkey, that was the point at which I said, Enough.
Thanksgiving had become a complete and total barf-o-rama.
So I had my dad drive me two hours down to the nearest city where I could find a one-way rental car and drove from Fresno to LAX. I had been due to leave California to fly to Hong Kong for business, and there was absolutely no way I was going to stick around Yosemite to risk winding up on a 17 hour flight to Hong Kong with a stomach bug. I changed my flight to return to NYC instead of going directly to Hong Kong, and left California as quickly as I could.
All of this said, if someone in your family does get a holiday barf bug — wipe everything down OFTEN with a bleach solution. Healthy people should use separate bathrooms from the sickies if they can. Don’t share towels; don’t share dishes. Home dishwashers are usually not hot enough to sterilise or to kill virus particles, and using disposable dishes, cups, and cutlery until the bug has passed is often a good idea if you’re in a multi-person household.
And for the love of all that is holy, don’t prepare food if you are ill. I say this often, but…you never know what people are dealing with. You never know if people maybe just had surgery, or are pregnant, or if they might have some other issue where exposing them to an illness might not be a big deal for you, but for them, it could be serious. Sometimes I feel like we’ve lost a strong-enough sense of stewardship: I care about you. You’re part of my community. If I get some kind of gnarly illness, I’m going to do my best to make sure I don’t give it to you.
That stewardship instinct has to be borne out of some ancient desire for survival of the species, right? I’m not sure our current default of: Well, we all have Ebola, but it’s Thanksgiving! mentality is a great for anyone.
So with all of this in mind, and with the Great Thanksgiving Barf-o-Rama of 2012 still an exceptionally fresh (and painful) memory, please mark my words: If I wake up on Thanksgiving morning to the dulcet sounds of someone in my family hacking, retching, or similar, somebody is getting his lights punched out, shortly before I make the long drive back to Los Angeles.