Friday, November 16, 2012

friday photoblog: holiday special, thankful edition

I have a story for you.

It's not an exceptionally good story, mind you. It won't change your life or leave you sobbing. It probably won't even make you smile. But it is a story, and a story I want to tell nonetheless.

This is a story of last Thanksgiving.

Derrick and I have the good fortune of living near not one, but two cliché holiday destinations. Salem, MA puts on a monthlong Halloween extravaganza that celebrates all things Halloween: ghosts, goblins, witches, and our forefathers' belief that a person's innocence could be proven by throwing the accused into an ice-cold river (can't it?).

We've yet to make it out to the annual spooktacular shenanigans that occur at Salem (we hear parking is a BITCH), but last year, we decided enough was enough. We'd lived in Boston for nearly six months. It was time to get out and ENJOY this new area we lived in. And since Thanksgiving was approaching, there was no better place to head than....

I will freely admit it was not the centuries-old history or Thanksgiving traditions that brought us out to Plymouth that weekend. Sure, that was part of why we went, but the real reason is a little more predictable...


In other words: Screw the pilgrims. We journeyed down to Plymouth to get our hands (and stomachs) on the world's largest barbecue sandwich. Guinness World Record officials were going to be on the premise. We were going to make history, y'all. 

Plymouth--what little I saw of Plymouth when I wasn't stuffing my face with clam chowder or pumpkin whoopie pies-- is lovely. White churches with towering steeples. Local restaurants with street-facing windows. American flags wavering from every street corner. All-American, all-New-England, all-people-lived-here-with-cholera-and-scurvy. I felt very patriotic.

We knew Plymouth put on a big show for Thanksgiving. Folks, I didn't watch all those Thanksgiving animated movies or star* in all those pilgrim plays for nothing. I know Plymouth is a BFD in American--and especially Thanksgiving--tradition.

*by star I mean I had one line and wore a pilgrim collar made out of construction paper. I used to have two lines. Then a new girl moved to our school and I had to give up one.  I originally was supposed to say something like, "My name is Elizabeth Pilgrimflower. Our journey was so terrible that half of us died of dysentary or scurvy or whatever hell else old-timey diseases people got in the 17th century. Something exotic. TIMES WERE TERRIBLE! WE ATE RATS! REPENT! REPEEEEEENT!" 

When the new girl came, I lost the second part of my oh-so-poignant line and was strictly in charge of introducing both of us. "Oh, okay," I told my teacher, "I'll just say 'My name is Elizabeth Pilgrimflower, and this is my sister, Belinda." "Belinda can't be your sister," my teacher told us. "Why not?" I asked. "Because Belinda is black," my teacher said.

Clearly, my teacher hadn't thought about the off chance that the Pilgrims came to American to escape religious persecution AND interracial intolerance. 

Also, my teacher was racist.

As much as I hate gigantic displays of holiday revelry (see: New York City on New Years Eve, Boston during the 4th of July, Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day), Plymouth charmed me. The parade was gigantic and ridiculous. There were giant turkeys. There were marching bands. There were pilgrims on cell phones.

But there was no Al Roker. There were no gigantic floating Spongebobs or M&Ms. There were no endless Hanes commericals. There were families clustered on blankets on the sunny hillside, children sitting on the curb, marching bands smartly stepping past. And folks, that's the kind of hometown Americana this bitter cynic can get behind.

Surprisingly, my favorite part of Plymouth wasn't the food festival; rather, I liked just walking around the town that America (by and large) forgot. Something real and true happened here, and these people carry it in their hearts like a weighty secret they've been entrusted to bear:

But I didn't come here to talk about Plymouth. I came to talk about my family.

They are wonderful and they are kind. They are good-souled, hard-working people who taught me everything I know and trust. They have rough palms and even rougher fingertips, the paint in their house is chipping, and they were each raised with their own kind of painful nothing and everything.

My mother raised me on books, with long-simmered chicken broth and homemade noodles. My stepfather raised me on resourcefulness, with a respect for soulful guitar on the radio and the importance of a well-oiled machine. They are both as practical as they are wise, and they are the most good-hearted, honest people you will ever meet. They are the ones you call in the snowstorm; the ones you call when the heat's gone out or a hurricane is hammering down your door or ohmygodit's1AMandthebabystillwon'tsleep; they will talk you down from the ledge and tell you how to jump the car or calm the baby or field dress the deer your car has hit.

And last year, they came to visit me for the first time in Boston.

I was ecstatic. Something had happened in our move, and my family hadn't seen it yet. But here--here among the unpacked boxes, the aging house and the 1950's suburbanites-- I had bloomed. I had blossomed. And I couldn't wait to show it all off. Look, ma, your daughter's not a complete failure. Look, she's stretched her wings. Look at the pictures on the wall. Look at me laughing. Look at me standing knee-deep in the water with a crab in my net. Look at me in New York City. Look at me in Baltimore. Look at me on the beach, in the waves, in the kitchen, sitting on the dock.  

Look, mom. Look what I can do.

And oh, readers, the things we did.

The first day they were up, we sprung a full-scale lobster boil on them. Guess what's in the bag? We grinned. Look, we said to my brother, Look inside. He did. And he looked at is like we were half-awesome and half-murderers, which is accurate. And it was he who dropped his own lobster in the boiling water that day, along with mussels, potatoes, corn, and chicken.

My parents and Derrick and I, we stuffed our faces. And we all sat back, grinning, at the remnants of the feast Derrick and I had laid before them.

Drunken lobster debauchery

It was a milestone. The kids were cooking Thanksgiving for the parents. The kids were capable of cooking Thanksgiving—and oh, what a Thanksgiving it was. There was pie (which almost burned, thanks to our posessed oven that we are JUST NOW getting fixed). There were braised leeks (which came too slightly too sweet). There were mashed potatoes (not as good as my stepfather's, but close), and broccoli rabe (which came out too...meh). There was macaroni and cheese that forgot to make it to the table (we had cooked it the day before and forgotten all about it). There was duck (slightly dry). But none of it mattered. Because we had cooked it ourselves, with our own hands, and our food was delicious, no matter its minor flaws. Because we had made a quiche that morning and it was perfection. Because, with all our flaws, we had still made my parents sit back in their chairs with pleasure after three helpings of our dinner. Because we all chipped in and made it.

And because we had roasted a whole turkey for the first time, and it was goddamn delicious. 

Later that weekend, we took my family out into Boston. I don't like to post pictures of my (technophobic, Facebook-distrusting, not-far-from-Amish) family here, but I couldn't resist a few non-identifying photos, especially ones as charming as this one, where my darling brother looks so much larger in person but still endearingly small in photos:

Waiting for the subway

We decided to do our usual nondescript Nicki and Derrick Do Boston But Don't Show You Anything of Actual Value tour that we give all family members. Which, naturally, started with Boston Common, home of unnaturally fat animals and former home to public executions.

We saw remarkably creepy cherubs:

Come play in our fountain, Nicki....come play....forever...

My brother got to practice his Animal Whisperer Skills on Boston Common's wildlife:

He's looking down at the clementine in his hand, trying to get a segment of fruit to offer to the squirrel. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the squirrel was probably way more interested in leftover pizza crust and candy bars.

We explained the nuances of the two-party political system to my brother (hey, he asked), before recognizing with relief that he cared more about the statues representing the parties than he did the actual parties himself:

We took them to Regina Pizzeria, home of the best pizza IN THE WORLD (or at least the city)...:

...and managed to look drunk/severely handicapped while doing so.

And we took my (Italian) mother to one of the North End's infamous bakeries....

...where she bought a box of Italian cookies for her father, and the wonderfully warm, kind shopkeeper showed my brother how they used to (and still do) wrap pastry boxes for customers:

And sometime, when we were all scattered among the house, with my stepfather and David on the porch with Derrick and my mom and I in the living room in front of the fire, my mother looked at all the photos on the mantle and said to me: I am so proud of you. 

And I knew what she meant. Proud that I had found myself. Proud that I found somewhere I belonged. Proud of me for finding happiness. Proud of me for being myself, for living, for carving out a Nicki-sized spot for myself somewhere in this wide, wide world.

My two dogs (my parents' and my own), together again

And when it was time for them to go, my little dog sat at the door and waited patiently for them to come back.

...and he waited...

...and waited...

...and waited...

even though he had obviously skipped meals

...before finally giving up.

sad face.

 But little dog, I have good news for you: my family is coming up again this year for Thanksgiving. Is it a new tradition? Perhaps. I don't know. I just know I'm thankful--so thankful-- for them, and even more thankful to share Boston (and my kitchen, and my table) with them again.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving, lovelies?


  1. Dang it. I really love this post, Nicki. It's personal and sweet. I hope your Thanksgiving is absolutely wonderful. Again. :)

  2. OH MY GOD! Is there anything you're not good at? You cook, write, take good pictures of things... I MEAN COME ON NICKI! Are you even human?

  3. What a wonderful post. I was captivated until the very end. Your photos are awesome as always.
    Wishing you the most wonderful family thanksgiving this year.

  4. I love how you and Derrick are holding that turkey with the pride of two new parents.

    Okay, so here's the idea: since we both missed out on Halloween this year, I think that I should come up there next October and we brave the Salem parking to have a HALLOWEEN EXPLOSION OF FUN. We might not be able to do the UK just yet but THIS is within our realms, right???
    (Though I have to admit that waiting a year to see you would not be cool so maybe I should stow away in your folks' car for Turkey Day.)

    ((Or maybe you can stow away with them and come down HERE?!?!))

    (((Save a spot for Apollo, too.)))

    ((((And I'm caught up yet missing you even more after reading all of this again. *sobs* I think it's time for an adventure to the north.))))

  5. This was touching... and made me laugh out loud at your cherub caption and the Regina's Pizzeria photo. I'm so excited that they're coming to visit you again this year! I hope to someday be able to do that for my parents. I was worried when you went MIA this morning.

  6. Love ALL THE PHOTOS! :D

    I'm acutally jealous of your take-charge Thanksgiving... I'd much rather be the new hostess because I obviously know how to throw a fabulous soiree. And I'm a control freak.

    Happy Thanksgiving, YA JIVE TURKEY.


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