The following is reproduced from Heart of a Lion, Hands of Woman: What Women Neurosurgeons Do . With the holidays approaching, I thought you might enjoy!
Thanksgiving from hell…Almost! (1996)
|Roberta Glick, M.D.|
I am eight months pregnant. I am 43 years old. My husband invited 20 guests, “his family” for the “second night” of Thanksgiving. Need I say more.
Let me give you some background. Several Jewish Holidays have traditional second nights, including Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah (which has 7). In this era of “post-modernism”, we’ve created a new tradition of “second night” of Thanksgiving at our house. Friday night following the usual Thanksgiving celebration, we invite my husband’s brothers and their families who have come into town for the grand Thanksgiving party held at my step-mother-in-law’s house. We also invite several of his relatives from the side of the family we don’t see on Thursday, and other friends.
Our party was originally for 10 to 12 people and I was told, by my husband, “Don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything”. By Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the count was up to 16 people. By Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, it was 17. And by 3 p.m. Friday, it was 20. Our “traditional “second night” meal is spaghetti. The recipe is one my husband’s mother used to make for the kids some 25 to 30 years ago. She was an artist who died of breast cancer, and her legacy includes her 3 sons, her paintings, and her spaghetti sauce recipe. We still have the original one written on disintegrating paper.
My 5 year old son and I spent much of Wednesday and Thursday evenings decorating the house for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (which was one week after Thanksgiving) and setting the table. Because it was Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, we light candles and say blessings over wine and bread, challah. The table must be set so that all of the woman have a set of candlesticks to bless, all the men have prayer caps (yamalkes) and everyone has a special Kiddush wine glass and prayer book. This is in addition to all the usual silverware, dishes, drinking glasses, and wine glasses.
I am going to reveal one of the very guarded secrets of marriage that no one ever talks about. That is, before a party, there are tremendous tensions and “discussions” between spouses. Something like this. I, of course, am the one with great expectations who wants to make a “perfect party” with matching cloth napkins, lovely polished silverware, glistening crystal, fresh cut flowers, and candles. But I’m no Martha Stewart, nor do I know who Martha Stewart really is. I’m a working pregnant mother, with grand illusions and with morning sickness for 8 months.
My husband on the other hand, believes that good food and good friends are all you need for a great party, and don’t worry about the rest. “We can use paper plates and paper napkins,” he says, as I cringe, appalled. So after two days of “setting up”, as my son calls it, I thought everything was under control, especially since my husband (Don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything but rest and relax) had ordered flowers, chickens, all kinds of salads, fruits, cakes, pies, and other desserts from a wonderful local caterer.
So feeling confident, we went to the circus. On the Friday morning of the dinner party, we decided to take 12 brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces to the 3-ring Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth. It was a great time.
After the circus, at 2 in the afternoon, we went to pick up the food at the caterer’s shop. But the caterer was closed. No one answered the phone or the pager number that we had been given. Because we had used their services often in the past, we totally trusted the chef (a 450+ pound guy who was always sitting down when we saw him). He was obviously a great cook. We had even faxed our order 2 weeks in advance and received a return fax message earlier in the week. So why worry. I kept telling my husband, “Let’s give them another hour, they’ll show up”. Always the eternal optimist, I am.
At 3 p.m. we had to reset the table from 17 to 20. Actually, we had to add a third table for the kids and rearrange all the furniture in the living room to accommodate it. At 4 p.m., still no word from the caterer. Dinner was called for 6 p.m., and all we had so far was spaghetti and spaghetti sauce. My husband said, “I better go shopping””.
“What about the flowers?” I asked.
“I’ll pick some up,” he said.
“Find a bakery and use the health food store for fruit and chicken,” I said.
“I will,” he answered.
“Stop and Chop” became our mantra because at 5 p.m. we started making green salads and fruit salads and chicken for 20 people. In the meantime, maybe it was hormonal (which translates as the unknown “woman” factor), maybe it was my way of dealing with reality and insanity all at once, maybe it was because I was 8 months pregnant, but as I was getting out more silverware to reset the table, I sat down on the kitchen floor and started shedding tears and having bouts of laughter in succession.
A race to the finish. The first guests begin to arrive. I handed them knives, cutting boards, bowls, and plates to help prepare the food. Finally dinner was ready and we all sat down. Just as I was sitting down and finally relaxing, the phone rang.
It was a friend whose father, a university professor with some recent visual and mental changes, had just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He called to tell me that he had been doing some reading and found out that this tumor, called “Glioblastoma Multiforme”, was the worst tumor one could have and that his father may have only a few months to live. He was shocked, and severely upset and angry all at once. Portable phone in hand, I left the table and wobbled back to the kitchen to talk to him.
When I returned to the table 15 minutes later, I realized that a Thanksgiving party that nearly went off track, one that I knew I would laugh about later, in the years to come, was not the life drama or tragedy I saw it as just minutes ago. My perspective on life at that moment was like looking through a telescope as I refocused the lens. As I looked around the table, I was thankful for all the good friends and family, joy and good health, and good times we were able to share that night.
And I thought of my friend.
Note: About one hour into the dinner, we received another phone call. It was one of the partners of the catering service apologizing and letting us know that they went out of business that very day. Something about taxes. They didn’t even offer a cake.