I’m going to say something unpopular. Samhain for me isn’t really all that angsty unless I make it an angst fest. I’m too hardwired for it to mean candy and pumpkins and The Craft that unless I’m paying super close attention and really attuning myself, it’s not a big deal.
It starts for me on All Saint’s Day. Not because I was raised Catholic, no one in my family ever really paid attention to random days of obligation. It’s not some kind of oooooooh Ye Olde Catholicism Witchcraft crap. It’s the anniversary of my uncle’s death. It starts then for me. I tip over into the well a little (or a lot) that day, depending on the year. I don’t drown in it, but I start to fall. I think of all the regrets I have – how I didn’t spend more time with my uncle as adults together, how I don’t have very many pictures of us together, how he didn’t see me fill his deathbed promise to publish my book. I make food, I brood. I think about my operating system, which is this:
My whole life is based on dead people because everyone in my family drops dead at a young/ish age suddenly. So the question I always ask myself is, will I regret doing/not doing this when I go to their funeral? Will I be sad to not have this memory? Will I be sad that I didn’t take this time to give the dead person a happy memory? The rest of my life is spent getting all *my* shit done so I don’t die with a pile of regret like everyone else. I’m running against death always. It’s probably the only place in my life that I’m a good runner, for whatever that’s worth.
Sometimes, I forget that most people don’t run on this matrix. So it can be hard to explain that when we all start really amping up our crazy in our family to celebrate Thanksgiving because we are all Ophelia crazy with grief that opting out isn’t really an option because it’s not like anyone is being toxic or abusive, or as I so delicately put it, THAT IS NOT AN OPTION FOR US AS WOPS. OUR OPTION IS TO DEAL WITH OUR FAMILY WHO CANNOT SHOW FEELS SO THEY JUST ACT BATSHIT CRAZY AND YOU GET BATSHIT CRAZY AND YOU ALL JUST HAVE TO FUCKING EAT FOOD TOGETHER AND DEAL.
My mom gets extra crazy because her brother is dead and everyone else is dead and she was sick and she wants to not put too much effort into food prep for the holidays and instead choses to try to cockblock me at every given opportunity about using actual ingredients which in turn makes me crazy. My mom always is like, shouldn’t you take the turkey with you to your house to brine which makes zero sense. On Wednesday, my crazy slowly starts amping up along side my mother’s, since she and Jow were both plotting to kill me earlier in the week with all their weird symptoms and head injuries and I have to brow beat them half to death to go to the doctor. I start simmering in a cesspool of resentment at my desk. Why does MamaFran’s crazy get to always trump my crazy! Why do I have to make green beans from a goddamn can? Why can’t I cook the food I want to cook? It’s not like my uncle is not dead for me or that irritating me is going to make him rise up! WHY DOES SHE ALWAYS DO THIS TO ME???? I am reaching critical crazy levels here. I know I am. I know when I’m being batshit crazy 9 out of 10 times which isn’t a bad set of odds in my opinion. But it’s this or drown in the well of sadness and if I start sobbing at my desk I’ll have to talk about my feelings to senior partners at work and that sounds like the absolute worst. So completely crazy it is. April1 starts attempting to hose me down with promises of a trip to Whole Foods and champagne and American Horror Story and maybe tiny cakes.
In the snail chat, April2 takes the offense:
She: “My poor mother lost her brother, now she has NOTHING to be thankful for!!!” You should say that and then she should turn on you and angrily tell you that she has SO MUCH she’s thankful for, like YOU and ALL YOUR HARD WORK And CANNED GREEN BEANS, The Psychological Warfare of Gratitude, vol 1, by April
Me: Hahahahahahahha I’m going to do that
She: Atta girl. It’s like the No Thank You Note of gratitude. NO YOU DON’T MOM, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE THANKFUL FOR AND EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU LOVE IS DEAAAAAAAD!!!!!
Me: This may happen, fyi. So if I’m calling from a locked bathroom you’ll know why. And that I’ll need help getting down the balcony.
She: Just keep screaming NOTHING TO BE THANKFUL FORRRRRRR til I get there
April1 turns a bit more philosophical:
Me: Jow is half white and I have to like invoke recent ancestral grief and despair every time to make his fucking Sicilian side turn on and process the situation correctly. And that part of him says stupid shit like, “I don’t feel like going on family vaca anymore” so I have to stare him down and say, “are you prepared to tell my mother that when she’s in her coffin? That you just didn’t feel like going? And now she’s dead and you can’t magically make family vacations happen for her now that you feel bad about it and it’s too late to do anything about it?”
April1: You know, maybe more people should think like this. It would avoid a lot of problems.
As the day wears on, I become more unhinged. First, the only option is to stage a coup against my mother next year where I buy the ingredients and cook what I want to cook and she stfu and hostesses and everyone is happy. Okay, okay, a solid start. Good, good. Then as we get dangerously close to getting out early, I start thinking, why wait until next year? I’m going to go to Whole Foods anyway and April1 won’t mess with me when I’m clearly batshit crazy. I’m going to buy some motherfucking ingredients, charge it, and actually honor my dead uncle who was my only partner in crime about giving a shit that anything tasted good. I’m going to bring bone stock and I’m just going to take my mother’s approach to life for once and ignore what she wants and focus on what I think is actually best for everyone. I’ll hide all the crap ingredients and fix this. It’s not too late! Especially since my mother made the mistake of telling me she didn’t buy cranberry sauce and I can make something from scratch to fix that! I’m making gravy too! Let her try and stop me! She doesn’t know what goes into what when I’m working anyway! She won’t know what I’m doing!
I’m actually calm again for a hot minute. I try to explain to Jow about my other sads, that I used to be a useless twat and now I’m a productive adult who is psychotically obsessing about fresh green beans and sometimes I miss being a useless twat but he calls me morose and melancholy which is rich from the boy who listened to Morrissey all the time in high school so I ignore him and wait for April1 to get here who will be sensible as she was once a useless twat too right alongside me. We ditch Jow and we can reminisce in the car on the way to Whole Foods in peace. We talk about how much Goldschlagger we used to drink on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the tables we would dance on and the boots we would wear and the fishnets. Nothing was expected of us besides showing up and maybe making a couple things to bring. We’d be a little hung over and feeling like we were doing the world a huge favor just by showing up. “Sometimes I still miss that!” I said passionately. “And sometimes I wonder how the fuck I got here! Like, it feels like one minute I had a clove in one hand and drink in the other and I’m spinning on the dance floor at Q’s and the next minute I’m waging cold war against my mother and her goddamn canned green beans and I don’t know how it happened! Like, I was cooking Thanksgiving with Jow when my uncle was still alive. How! When! Why? Why would I willingly take that on? But I did, and now here I am.” And we laugh together, a bit wryly, a bit sadly because the craziest part to us is that we don’t miss it. Not really.
It’s not crowded at Whole Foods and April1 is the most patient of handlers as she always is, letting me touch and smell all the ingredients and I become myself again. She comes over and we drink champagne and we watch the end of American Horror Story and I’m half asleep on the couch by 8:30 and she never minds or teases me about it. Just hugs me good night.
I wake up mostly sane. I decide to just lean into the day and try to have an open heart. I make sure we have mimosas and sugar pastries for cooks’ breakfast with my mom. I get the turkey in the oven and pose for a selfie, my mom laughing and handing me a potholder. We eventually start Tetris ing the dishes into the over and I use some of my mom’s ingredients with mine to make sure we have enough of everything. My sister, The Head Bottle Washer shows up and starts getting the dishes in order. I make gravy. I make stuffing. The boys cut the meat. My mom makes the mashed potatoes. I worry about things getting cold and my feet start to hurt and one of my cousins starts complaining and Jow asks me if I want a drink so I grab the champagne bottle and he took this picture of me, waiting. I call it, The Cook Contemplates Her Fate. My 25 year old self could never fathom that picture, that it was without fanfare and at 2pm during a family function. We take out the desserts and I make drinking chocolate that my cousins put in their coffees. My nephew runs around and opens his birthday present and hugs the dog. My cousins tell me stories of their childhood. Before I know it, it’s 6pm and I’m very tired. We take home bags of food and watch Shameless. My heart is at peace, I did my best for my family.