My Thankful Family’s 2020 Zoom Holiday Feast
While historians will tell you our national election schedule was determined by the sagacious leaders of America’s mostly agrarian society in 1845, I like to believe it’s the machinations of a few old, sadistic jerks who wanted to wreck Thanksgiving every four years. You see, kids, some men just want to watch the world burn. Even on Thanksgiving.
In a hyper-political year, every choice you make will be politicized. Never has the disagreement over dressing versus stuffing been so potentially volatile. Oh, how those old farmers would be amused to see the chaos they’ve wrought a mere 175 years after determining our election calendar around harvest time and Sunday church service. This year our family decided to Zoom, but even the wonders of turkey at a distance won’t overcome all the political booby traps lying in wait. I’ve written holiday survival guides before, but this Thanksgiving — everything is different!
I knew trouble was brewing when mom and I began discussing plans for coordinating multiple time zones and different continents. We’ve traditionally been an early Thanksgiving dinner family, Thanksgiving lunch really. Being native Texans, we typically either finish eating or at least start by kickoff for the Cowboys game. This schedule isn’t bad for us in Eastern Europe, meaning an 8 pm turkey dinner. We coordinated schedules without a glitch, but then the menu got political.
“I suppose you’re going to make that fancy New York Times dressing again this year?” Mom uttered the name of that ‘terrible’ newspaper with a disgusted shudder.
“I don’t think they came up with the recipe, mom. I found it there. But this year I was thinking of trying a cornbread stuffing.”
Mom’s face brightened. “Oh, really? Are you going to do grandma’s recipe?”
“No, I found something else I’m curious to try.”
Her eyebrows knitted as she rifled through all the news her conservative social circle recently put in front of her. “Oh god, you’re not doing that Kamala recipe are you?!?” The way she spat out ‘Kamala’ made her previous pronunciation of ‘New York Times’ sound friendly.
“Uh, no? She has a recipe?”
I lied. I am trying Kamala’s recipe this year.
“Yes! She shared it with the world as if anyone gives a damn what she eats.”
I nodded, my familial equivalent of a POW giving only their name, rank, and serial number.
“I mean, she puts pork sausage in her dressing!”
I nod again — name, rank, serial number. I’m hoping if I stay quiet, this will pass.
“I suppose the next thing you know, sleepy Joe Biden will force us all to make his version of cranberry sauce.”
I decide to change the trajectory of this conversation. “You always go for the canned cranberry sauce, don’t you?”
She stops looking at the to-do list in her hand and leans into her laptop’s camera. “I do, but once we’re all socialists we will have to do whatever comrade Joe tells us to do.”
I chuckle at ‘comrade Joe.’ It’s funny. She laughs as well and then continues with her blustering tirade.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day we have a socialist Thanksgiving.”
“Technically,” I say, “Thanksgiving has always been kind of socialist. The native Americans were providing free food to the pilgrims in their time of need. From the get-go, it had an ‘each according to their ability’ kind of vibe to it.”
I’ve clearly overplayed my hand.
“Is that what you think? You think we’re celebrating communism?”
For a brief second I consider pointing out her subtle shift from socialism to communism, but then realize I’m the one who added Marx to the conversation. I need an out.
“I think we’re celebrating family, like it’s intended.” I consider throwing in something biblical but decide that would be suspicious coming from me, so I put down my shovel.
Mom nods. Maybe we’re both ready for an armistice.
“Are y’all doing a whole turkey? Do Romanians ever fry a turkey?”
“We’re doing turkey breast and tofu. Pretty simple. And no, I don’t think fried turkey has made it across the Atlantic yet.”
The color drains from her face at the mention of tofu. My wife is a vegetarian, something my BBQ-loving family tolerates but doesn’t approve of. She swallows hard and moves on.
“Well, maybe you could introduce fried turkey there? Open a food truck. People love fried turkey. You should do one!”
I laugh. “On our tiny apartment balcony? I would almost certainly set fire to the building.”
She looks disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm for her idea. “Well, it’s a thought. Are y’all doing fried okra?”
Fried okra is one of my mom’s favorite things in the world. We ate so much okra going up, when I left for college I didn’t touch the stuff for almost twenty years.
“No,” I explain, “we don’t really find okra that often here, but we are making a sweet potato puree with some of the chipotle peppers you sent me.”
I regularly receive care packages from home, often spices or dried peppers and usually along with some sort of Texas-themed apron or oven gloves.
“Oh, that sounds wonderful! Send me the recipe. Are you making any Romanian holiday dishes?”
I’ve tried my hand at borscht and I’ve helped my mother-in-law stuff sarmale, but that’s as much as I’ve ventured into the world of traditional Romanian cuisine.
“No, we’re keeping it pretty traditional.”
This seems to please her. She’s often commented on my unconventional life choices, so any time I embrace a semblance of tradition constitutes a win in her book.
At this point, my sister joins our call. Her three kids and her busy schedule usually mean I go months at a time without seeing her.
“Hello! Sorry, I’m late. Did you guys get everything figured out?”
“Your brother is making tofu for Thanksgiving.”
I sigh. I knew she wouldn’t let it go for long. “We’re making more than tofu. I’m roasting a turkey as well, but Leti doesn’t eat meat. So, yes, we’re also having tofu.”
“Oh good! That’s healthy. Hey, will you send me that dressing recipe you use?”
My mom lurches toward the camera. “You are not going to make that New York Times dressing!”
My sister looks into the camera amused and says with feigned shock, “It’s a mainstream media recipe? This will not make America great again.”
I laugh and agree to send her the recipe, but now that the genie is out of the bottle, my sister can’t resist giving it a poke.
“So how does Romania feel about the election?”
If I could communicate with only my eyes, my little sis would know to steer clear of the topical landmines waiting to explode in our faces, but I lack that super power, and so we venture into lands where angels fear to tread.
“It was an acceptable outcome.” That’s about as generic of a response as I can give and am hoping it’s enough to defuse the situation.
“That’s not what Dana says,” my mom interjects. Dana is my mother-in-law who my mom has been plying with right-wing news via their Facebook connection. It’s been fairly effective and led to Dana asking about dead people voting in the US election.
I pause before speaking. “I think most people over here see the election as valid and the result as good for Europe. Like anywhere else though, opinions vary.”
Mom then launches into a full-frontal conspiracy assault on the stolen election, which my sister seems to enjoy with bemused mischief. Mom then tells us how Dana says many Romanians view Trump as a strong leader. This is true. Many people here still see strength in the machismo that Putin and even Romania’s former totalitarian leader Nicolae Ceaușescu exhibited. My sister and I let this rant run its course.
When mom finishes, my sister chimes in, “That was fun! What else? Are you guys quarantined? Are you going to write about it again?”
My sister takes gleeful pleasure in the article I wrote for VICE Romania last month that went slightly viral here. I’ve written for them before and assumed my quarantining with the in-laws article would be read by the same small number of people my previous articles had. I didn’t worry about my in-laws reading it. Until they did. It didn’t go over all that well. The English translation is here.
“No, we’re not quarantined yet. We have an 11 pm curfew at night and all indoor spaces are closed, but I met some friends for drinks on a terrace last night.”
“See,” my mom says, “they know this COVID thing is mostly a conspiracy! They’re not going to let it destroy their economy the way Joe and his sheeple cabinet will.”
My sister is laughing again. She’s enjoying this far too much.
“Look,” I say, “the pandemic is real. We will likely have some form of Romanian lockdown after the election in December, but no one wants to make that call until then.”
My sister finally decides to be helpful and change the topic. “Maybe we should all make one dish exactly the same? Have a virtual share?”
“Your brother is making cornbread dressing.”
“Oh,” my sister replies, “are you making granda’s recipe?”
“No. I’m making Kamala Harris’s version.”
adjective: overcome with anger; furious.
Mom’s eyes bulge and she removes her glasses. “You said you weren’t making her recipe!”
“I lied. I’m making it, but without the sausage, because Leti doesn’t eat meat.”
Mom gives me the look that froze me as a child. It is the kind of look that tells you not only are you about to get a spanking, but it’s going to hurt. She starts to say something and stops. She shakes her head before disappearing from Zoom’s grid view.
“That went well,” my sister chuckles.
“Yeah, well, at least we’ll all be virtually together for the holiday.” I laugh as well.
“Zoom Thanksgiving is probably for the best this year. We can mute if we need to.”
“I’m so thankful for that,” I reply.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” she has mischief in her voice again, “until I ask you to pass Kamala’s fucking stuffing.”
I chortle, making my sister laugh as well
“Seriously,” she says, “who made the bonehead call to have an election right before Thanksgiving?”
“I’m pretty sure it was a bunch of religious farmers in the 1800s.”
“Man, fuck those farmers!”
“Yep, fuck those guys,” I add with an emphatic nod.
“Okay then, see you tomorrow. Love you!”
“Love you too, sis.”
One family, three cities: We may not agree on much, but we’re thankful to have each other, even over Zoom, for our holiday tradition.