1979 was a rough year for celebrating anything for my family, let alone the holiday of bonding through overindulgence. My mom had lost her father, my dad had lost his mother, and my brother and I had lost two grandparents – one from suicide and one from cirrhosis. The exhaustion from it all coupled with the painful awareness that there would be two very empty chairs at the table caused my parents to want to do something completely different. That year we spent Thanksgiving at the Eureka Inn.
Most of the details of that dinner are lost. I remember my grandfather’s drawn and pale face, the red carpet and the feeling deep down in my stomach that things would be forever changed.
One thing I do remember with clarity, though, is my meal. Being born in Humboldt I learned to appreciate early all that the local waters had to offer. I loved surf fish, crab, duck, geese, trout, bass and salmon. My very favorite sea food was the oyster. Oyster stew, smoked oysters, grilled oysters – I loved them all, which is why I was ecstatic when I saw an oyster dish on the Thanksgiving menu.
“Are you sure, Kris?” my dad asked. “I’ve had Oysters Rockefeller before, and I just don’t think you’ll like it. You should probably choose something else.”
My mom was even more blunt. “It’s terrible! You won’t like it. Get some turkey or chicken like everyone else.”
But I was proud of my sophisticated nine-year-old palate. I also had a bit of a stubborn streak, and my mind would not be changed. I would have the Oysters Rockefeller.
I stared in horror as the waiter set a steaming plate of green goop in front of me and quickly glanced at my dad who pretended to be thoroughly involved in his turkey and mashed potatoes. Doing my best to hide my disgust I summoned all the strength I could muster, slid my fork into the green goop and then into my mouth. It was absolutely the most horrible thing I had ever tasted. I looked around wildly praying that no one would notice me spitting it out into my napkin. But everyone was staring at me.
“How is it?” my mom asked.
I felt my eyes well up as I was forced to swallow the abomination in my mouth.
My dad turned his head to look at me and smiled. “Well then, I’m going to have to have a taste. Maybe I’ll like it this time.” He thrust his fork in, pulled out a big bite of goop and stuck it in his mouth. He chewed for awhile without any facial expression, swallowed, took a long drink of his scotch and grinned. “God, that’s just awful.”
I burst into tears. “I know!”
Suddenly the whole table erupted into the kind of laughter mixed with relief that only those who’ve experienced great grief understand.
My dad and I each had half a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes that year.
Thirty years later I remain thankful for a family who has always allowed me to make my own many and varied mistakes with nary an “I told you so, ” and who has also always made the best of everything, even when things have certainly not been the best.