Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Very Schuster Thanksgiving Special

(Sorry no photos, folks. When I get the scanner. I'll add Dave and Carlotta to the top of the post). 

I remember few Thanksgivings prior to 1989, and no, it's not the whisky. It's just that is the year that what has become our annual tradition truly took shape. It was my freshman term at NYU and it snowed. My two best pals, Allan (my future ex-husband) and Jason (my then pseudo boyfriend and now brother-once-removed) made the trek out to CT, where my family lived at the time. Our good friends Chris and John, as well as a couple of my father's graduate students (my dad is a chemistry professor) who had arrived earlier in the day also joined us, as did family friends Paul and Nesren Salkin and their son David, who is my age. Grandma Nina lived with us; Grandma Cele drove out from Long Island. I picked Allan, Jason, Chris and John up at the train station. They had all somehow met and sat together on the huge train, not realizing till halfway through the trip they were going to the same place, and were already joking together like they'd known each other forever. When we arrived at the house, ascending our long winding driveway, the lawn, the trees, the roof, the glow of the interior, were an idyllic New England early winter wonderland setting. Everyone caught their breath at the same moment.

Which is good, because my dad decided to greet everyone at the door by shoving our 18 year old, long, gray-haired cat, Mabel, belly-up in their faces. "Look. Smell her. Smell my cat. Doesn't she smell like talcum powder? Doesn't she smell like a baby?" WHAT? I was mortified. But just as I contemplated running for the hills, Jason nearly fell over laughing. "Smell my cat! Doesn't she smell like a baby, like talcum powder?" my dad repeated to everyone over and over, thrusting all six pounds of poor defenseless Mabel right under people's noses. My dad's student George said, "Dave. Only you would greet Amanda's new boyfriend at the door asking him to smell your pussy." And thus, 20 years later, Jason's love of my family is entrenched.

Then the meal, Mom's chestnut soup, the family recipe turkey, corn pudding and all the sides, my pumpkin pie with pecan brittle, everything all came together. Paul was horribly allergic to cats and asked that Mabel be kept out of the dining room while we ate. "Has the cat been removed?" He asked in a oddly James Bond villain manner. Throughout the evening we kept erupting in waves of laughter at any little thing, especially when my mother slapped her shoulder, which she does any time someone says something peculiar. Like, say, "My cat smells like talcum powder." The grandmothers just shook their heads and chuckled as they held court on their end. Our fun lasted well into the night when Chris sat at the piano (at the time he was the saloon talent at Windows on the World) and the boys and I stood around and sang Monty Python's "Lumber Jack Song." Then we went outside and made snow angels on the lawn and got into a snow ball fight. The next morning, Jason and Allan, who slept on the foldout couch in the office, were greeted by my dad knocking on the door, "Rise and shine, boys." And Allan let out a very audible fart on cue. 10 year relationship, people.

In years to come, we repeated various elements of that night. It was a revolving group of students, but Allan (now my boyfriend, still my future ex-husband), Jason (it would never have worked), Chris and John had become our regular crew. The cat was dead, but the Salkins decided to do things at home from then on. For some reason, for three consecutive years, we kept having little natural catastrophes that would always occur On. That. Day. One year the Koehler faucet in the kitchen broke and my mother declared a "state of E-German-cy" when we had to keep washing and schlepping everything to and from the downstairs utility sink. Another year my dad made a fire and forgot to open the flue, so the house filled with smoke. Jason said it gave the term "flame retardant" a whole new meaning. (Double shoulder slap). Each house in that town had its own well which was electrically pumped. Wouldn't ya know it, the next year, the pump went on the fritz and there was absolutely no running water for 3 days. We managed anyway, using a lot of jugged water and flushing toilets with pool water. No one stayed over.

While dinner was cooking, we would sit around the large living room by the fire (it was only that one time), drinking cocktails and grazing on snacks. We used to play games like "Dictionary" where we agree on a word no one knows and come up with our own definitions. My favorite was John's for "repoussage," which is of course what happens when someone is assaulted using a jar of French mustard.

My grandmothers both died within a few months of each other, between 2000 and 2001, which was also the year my marriage to Allan finally choked on its own vomit. But we managed to get the rest of the group together, plus a new cat. My dad provided the running gag of the evening as he tried to work out his new digital meat thermometer that kept chiming even though the turkey wasn't close to being done. And luckily for Bruce the cat, he doesn't smell anything like talcum powder. Though it was hard for me to ignore two of those empty places. A toast to you two great dames.

My parents finally sold the house in 2005 and permanently moved to a duplex in Manhattan. The first couple of years in that apartment, they had Korean neighbors who occupied the top two floors. My folks kept complaining that the doorbell would ring at all hours. In 2007, our friend Malvina said this van drove up to the apartment as she was leaving. She heard someone say, "Yep, this is the place," and then drove off. By Christmas Eve, the neighbors were all arrested in a prostitution bust. Yep, happy ending massage parlor right above my parents! When my dad greeted me at the door the next day, oh, how I wish I'd had a camera. The ideal Kodak moment, police tape emblazoned with "PROSTITUTION" covering the door leading upstairs. Their landlord was cleaning out the place. By Christmas night's end, the sidewalk was strewn with used mattresses, satin sheets and a lot of clocks.

This year it's nearly a whole new crew. John still joins us, but Chris has to go to Maryland to be with his ailing mother. Jason is spending the holiday with work friends but has already checked in. Malvina, a wonderful lady who gave up a cushy career to become a Bronx public school history teacher will be there. The new upstairs neighbors, Padma and Oskar, who are my age, (They're bankers. For real. Nary a satin sheet up there as far as we know) will be coming downstairs for the festivities. Over the years we got another John, my now ex-boyfriend. So we have gay John and English John. And get this, English John's other ex-girlfriend, Anastasia (we bonded) will be here visiting from Seattle, and her lovely 22 year old daughter Liza visiting from Moscow, and her friend Vanessa (no idea where she comes from) will all be present. English John has to work at the Harefield Road in Williamsburg and will be missed. Yes if I could, I'd draw you all a chart.

What am I thankful for this year? Well, it definitely was one of the worst ones of my life, have to say. But there is no way I'd come out of it OK without my crazy parents and all the love, support and patience they have shown me and the people around me. No way. No way at all.

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