Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Symphony of Thanks: A Fight Song Holiday Special

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! I want to start doing some holiday specials featuring characters from different works of mine, and we're starting today. I hope you enjoy!

 A Symphony of Thanks

People say city streets are chaotic, and they're right. But the busiest street has nothing on my family's kitchen on Thanksgiving morning.

By all rights, no one should have room to move in here. Every inch is packed with people; the oven and the counters and the table are all full of food, already prepared or being prepared or ready to be prepared. But somehow, everyone manages, weaving through like dancers on a crowded stage. No one's rehearsed this, but everyone somehow is where they need to be when they need to be there.
Me, I mostly stay where I am: up to the elbows in flower, mixing or kneading or cutting a steady stream of bread products: buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato biscuits, drop biscuits, and about a million dinner rolls. You'd think we were feeding the whole town with the list Mom gave me, but I'm not complaining. I'd rather knead than mash potatoes and risk catching the blame if they aren't exactly buttery enough. And from here, I can enjoy the music of the morning.

Even without my special gift, I don't think I could miss the way all the noise and movement of the kitchen blends into a song. The thump of kneading dough and the constant pat-pat of feet and the snick-chop of knives through vegetables and the chatter of voices form the rhythm and melody of a particular kind of music. And the songs that only I hear, one and two and three-note hums and melodies, each attached to something or someone in the kitchen, fill out the song's harmony.

The sound of the knife stops, and Uhjin calls out, "Vegetables are all cut and in the pan! What now?"
Mom doesn't even look up from the stuffing she's mixing up. "There's oil and spices already mixed up in a bowl by Callie. Coat the vegetables and then put them in the oven. Thank you!"

Uhjin obeys. It's thanks to her that I made it down here. Between classes and my secret life as the superhero Songbird, I've had to cut back on work hours and wasn't sure if I'd have the cash for a bus ticket home. But Uhjin hadn't wanted to make the drive back to her home in California, and my family didn't mind having an extra person for the holiday, so she'd traded a seat in her car for a Thanksgiving somewhere other than our apartment. It's a good thing she's not the sort to keep track of favors, or I'd owe her for a lot by now.

The rest of the family — two sets of grandparents, five aunts (not including the three staying with us and already in the kitchen), an equal number of uncles, and too many cousins — arrive just as I slip my second-to-last pan of rolls into the oven. They trail an assortment of other people who I think might be attached to my cousins and the youngest aunt in some fashion, or who might just be people from church who heard about our feast and talked Mom into inviting them over. Either is possible. Mom greets them, directs the adults to wherever the food they've brought needs to be, and sends the kids to set the various tables crammed into the dining room, living room, and sunroom.

The movement that is dinner preparation climaxes with Dad's entrance into the kitchen, bearing in oven-mitted hands a turkey wrapped in foil. He's been in and out, checking on the birds in his new smoker, since yesterday afternoon. The lack of sleep shows around his eyes, but he's smiling anyway as he proclaims, "The turkeys are done! Just let me get the other one."

Mom wipes her hands on a dishtowel. "Just in time. Callie, Uhjin, start taking all this out to the buffet. Jen —" this is to one of my aunts — "Help them."

But Uhjin and I aren't waiting for help. We each grab a pan and a basket of biscuits or rolls and hurry out to the dining room. The buffet stand, normally a repository for neatly arranged miscellanea, has been cleared for the occasion, and a fold-out plastic table is set up next to it. Both are already well-stocked with food brought by the family, but I've been practicing this ever since I was twelve and Mom handed the responsibility over to me. With Uhjin, Jen, and a few helpful cousins to carry the food out to me, I find each thing its place, layering similar dishes so when one runs out, the one behind it can easily take its place, putting the kid favorites near the front, and ensuring that Gramma's pecan pie is the least accessible dessert on the table so I can be sure of getting a big slice.

With everything set and ready, there's a confused interlude as people find seats and younger cousins argue about who gets to sit at the adult tables and who's stuck at the kids' table. I roll my eyes at them. Uhjin and I, my younger sister, and the cousins closest to me in age have already staked out the lower end of the adult table for our own, guaranteeing prime conversation and space for games later.

This second movement of the symphony of Thanksgiving officially begins with Grampa's prayer of thanks. We all dutifully stand, heads bowed and hands clasped on the backs of chairs, and then wait longer as the younger cousins get the first pick of food. And then we're released to move through the line and heap our plates with smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, Gramma's trademark cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and more. Every dish on the buffet has its own melody that blends the notes of its ingredients, and to me, a loaded plate sounds like a whole orchestra — admittedly, one playing six or seven different tunes at once.

Between bites, my cousins and I trade news of college and jobs and clubs and friendships. Liz and I tease each other, like we always do, over our respective romantic relationships — the variety of boys at her college all competing for her attention and the fact that I have yet to have a successful date. She and Uhjin hit it off immediately, unsurprisingly.

As we move from dinner to dessert and I steal Gramma's pie to share out among my set, Grampa taps his fork on his glass to call for our attention. "I think we all know what happens now, but I'll remind y'all in case anyone's forgotten. It's time for us all to take a break from enjoying this delicious meal and remember what we're all thankful for. Meri —" he smiles at Gramma, who's seated beside him — "would you like to start?"

Gramma raises her glass. "Thanks be to God for my family and another year to enjoy them!"

Those closest to her cheer, and the next person speaks, and the next and the next. All of them mention normal things: family, faith, friendships, a new job, a new home. Then it comes to Mom. "I'm thankful that we could all be here together for the holiday, and I'm thankful that Callie is still safe and didn't get mixed up in all the hullabaloo up at her college this summer."

I squirm in my seat. I might not have told Mom and Dad much about my work to track down Welsh, but they'd run articles about the trial all the way down here. With the way Mom fussed over just that, it was probably better that she didn't know that I'd been the one to bring Welsh to justice — or that I was still out on the streets in the guise of Songbird.

Thankfully, no one else mentioned anything about me or the trial as the thanks-giving moved down the table. Eventually, it made its way around to me. I grinned at Uhjin, already knowing what I was going to say. "I'm thankful for my wonderful, patient roommate who got me down here and for all the new friends I've made since last spring." In particular, for Jonathan and Starlight, without whom I literally would have died, but no one needed to know that.

The meal drew to a close and the song of the holiday transitioned to a quieter sonata. The cousins and Uhjin and I abandoned the table, stuffed full of good food, to enjoy Uno and Codenames and whatever other card games we could find all the cards for. Relatives napped on couches or cleared the table and packed up leftovers or chatted over the now-clean table while the younger cousins ran wild, burning off all the energy they'd gained from the meal. This was my favorite part of any holiday, the quiet melody of peaceful togetherness.

But every symphony ends. Aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins trickled gradually out, headed home to sleep and prepare for the start of the Christmas season tomorrow. Liz was one of the last to leave, squeezing in one last game of Dirty Uno with Uhjin and I before her parents finally threatened to make her walk home. So, she hugged us both and then departed, muttering about how she should've driven herself.

And then it was just Uhjin and my parents and siblings and I, and the three aunts who were staying with us. Uhjin and I retreated to my room; her to read and me to practice. The sky had darkened; the chaos of the morning calmed to quietness; the symphony reduced to a few quiet melodies. But while it lasted, the symphony of the holiday had itself been something to be thankful for.

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