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Guestwords: This Year’s Uninvited Guest

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 17:19

This time last year I was worried. This time last year I would wake up at 3 a.m., find a pencil, and play with numbers. I would maximize. Then I would minimize. I quantified and I qualified. Nothing helped. The knot in my stomach, the anxiety, the “can’t wait for it to be over” were all palpable.

How many people? The numbers I was assured of one day may change the next. Crises might erupt. Everything could shift in the blink of an eye. I could plan for 25 and five might show up. Or the other way ‘round. No accounting for circumstance. Unexpected relatives appeared because it was, after all, Thanksgiving, and no one could be turned away. I was hostage to a holiday.

And most worrisome of all — the turkey. To brine or not? Use rubber gloves or do without? (I still don’t get the rubber gloves thing, but my friend Susan won’t do without.) To stuff and risk food poisoning or to risk an absence of flavor? If I stuffed, cornbread or sausage or oyster? Oyster? Dare I try oyster stuffing? How impressed everyone would be! But what if one oyster was bad? How large should the turkey be? Two small or one really big? Too big and the turkey may not be cooked enough. Too small and they may each be dry and tasteless.

Every year, beginning just about this time, I would go through the same litany of worries. That gosh-darned turkey gave me no end of heartburn. The uninvited guest, I called him. Nothing commanded so much attention. Nothing demanded such care, such fawning, such worry, such controversy, and, I have heard upon occasion, such heartache. Not to mention the sides. Were the brussels sprouts too close together? Had I scrubbed the potatoes hard enough, long enough? Should I have covered the trifle when I put it in the fridge lest it pick up other flavors?

It’s that time of year again. I wake up at 3 a.m., find a pencil, and play with numbers. I maximize. I minimize. I quantify and I qualify. Nothing helps. The knot in my stomach, the anxiety, the “can’t wait for it to be over” are still palpable.

How many friends are gone? How many phone calls need to be made? How many notes need to be written? How many risks should I take? See the grandchildren? My doctor calls them little vectors of infection. Take that risk for the reward of a snuggle or a kiss or even a smile? It all boils down to risk versus reward. I make a list of pros and cons. My vulnerabilities and those of my family. Not to mention the sides — except now they’re known as side effects. I vow to continue the hallowed tradition of Thanksgiving. Then I resign myself to the reality that, this year, tradition gets the year off.

No worries now about last year’s uninvited guest making an entrance. This year a different uninvited guest has taken its place. And this one’s a bitch.

Carol LoCascio-Creel lives in Montauk and New York City.

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