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The Worst Thanksgiving Ever

Thanksgiving has never been one of my favorite holidays. To put it bluntly, unlike Halloween and Christmas (read: candy and presents), Thanksgiving generally fails to inspire much speculation or wonder in me. It’s marked by predictability and cozy tradition, which is probably why my already ambivalent feelings for the holiday spiralled downward when I left for college in 2005.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t had a chance to spend Thanksgiving with my own nuclear family since then, and I always get a bit depressed around the holidays. On this fifth year without them, I’ve decided it’s high time to exorcise my dislike for Thansgiving, so I’m letting this post serve as a therapy session, by sharing the story of the most bizarrely bad Thanksgiving that ever was.

My senior year in college I got wind of all my paternal relatives having a big Thanksgiving family reunion. I was initially tempted to blow it off to party with my maternal grandma (as had been my college tradition up until that year), but was ultimately swayed by the sheer number of relatives (many second or third cousins I’d never met) who’d be attending.

The reunion was held in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home to Dolly Parton’s very own theme park (Dollywood), and best described as a bizarro Southern Vegas where every other block features a fireworks emporium and a strip club and very possibly an upside-down house (I can’t even explain the madness).

We all stayed at a youth center in cabins, which were actually quite nice, but the only other places to go were a rec room, which had a hamburger phone like the one on Juno, and the conference hall where we all got together for meals and scripted reunion “events.”

These events mostly involved singing Sweet Home Alabama and a hymn, followed by an ice-breaker.  I and a female cousin were the ice-breakers. Every morning and most afternoons, we would get called to the front of the room and instructed to perform some silly skit.

It wasn’t so bad at first, but when they made us do a copycat dance that involved swiveling hips and butt slaps, well, my lack of rhythm was revealed and mocked by more than one nameless, faceless relative. Then my 40-year-old former-Chippendale cousin’s 20-year-old Slovakian girlfriend hopped up and boogied down like she was at Studio 54, and her relative dancing prowess was also duly noted by many a nameless, faceless relative.

About my Chippendale cousin: he looked awesome for 40. And he made two family photo albums to share, one of actual family pictures and one of clippings from his Chippendale days. Guess who never managed to get her grubby paws on the Chippendale album because everyone else was always hogging it? This down-on-her-luck cousin, that’s who.[pullquote]Guess who never managed to get her grubby paws on the Chippendale album because everyone else was always hogging it?[/pullquote]

Due to the sheer size of the reunion crowd, certain great-uncles decided to cater the Thanksgiving meal instead of trying to make it in the closet-sized conference room kitchen. Good idea, right? Not when you cater from the same company that makes food for the local elementary school cafeteria (ok, I have no proof that connection is true, but everything was finely ground and tasted of aluminum). I still ate a truck-load of turkey.

Unfortunately, I never made it to the pies because I spent the better part of Thanksgiving afternoon and evening projectile vomiting in the rec room bathroom. It truly was one of the most painful, immediate  cases of food poisoning/stomach flu I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve drunk the water in loads of foreign countries and certain Midwestern counties where they tell you not to.

The worst part of it was when I was hugging the toilet, trying not to cry, and I heard some unknown relative wander into the rec room, start using the computer, make a phone call, and pause awkwardly every time I started retching again.

Scratch that, the worst part came about an hour after I’d evacuated everything I could have possibly eaten, and I was left with the task of cleaning up the bathroom by myself, because really, who else was I going to ask to do it? The only immediate relatives I had there were my two brothers, one of whom had already spent the whole reunion pissing off everyone with his 10th-grade antics and probably would have just taken a cell phone pic of me.

After I’d managed to clean everything up (and I’m not trying to gross anyone out, but the walls were dirty), I went and called my parents on the hamburger phone, which had horrible reception, and cried to my mom about how I wished I was at my grandma’s and I hated Thanksgiving.

Other things that happened during that reunion but I’m running out of room to detail: I couldn’t eat much for the rest of the weekend because I was still pukey, my Chippendale uncle got really hungover and showed up to every breakfast with sunglasses on, I got eliminated in the very first round of the big card game tournament, I missed the minivan going to Dollywood and I’ll never forgive myself for that, my great-uncle mixed a chocolate milkshake in a garbage can with a huge drill, and I didn’t eat any of that milkshake because I didn’t want to be sick again.

Anyway, this may make it sound like my relatives are awful (they’re definitely not) and I’m a huge whiney brat (I’m usually not, but for some reason that Thanksgiving brought out the miserable worst in me). It’s actually not such a bad story, now that I put it down in writing.

And when I reflect on that Thanksgiving day, I know two things: 1. I will never again have to eat food that bad unless I’m in jail or on a space mission, and 2. I’m really glad that I have weird, funny, dramatic relatives who’ll take me in when my parents live on a different continent and I’m 20 years old and have nowhere else to go.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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