The house got dressed up in a corduroy jumper for Thanksgiving. Swatches of primary colors were sewn together to make for a jaunty little dress dropped over a turtleneck.
Pies smoked in the cold air on the back porch. They covered the picnic table and an ironing board. White plumes spun in the autumn air and fogged my glasses when I bent over the pies. Dry leaves cracked when they dropped from the trees.
The house smelled rich with roasted turkey, dusty pastry, and dark cherries in heavy syrup. Tables ran the length of the long kitchen. Tablecloths in different shades of cream overlapped one another. I laid paper napkins painted with portraits of serious turkeys by the china plates and dropped ice cubes into the cut glass goblets. I unfolded crepe paper turkeys, their torsos a web of of tissue paper diamonds, and roosted them beside pillars of salt and pepper.
Cranberries fell with a thump and quivered, their waists marked by the cans. I poured dusty mints and greasy peanuts into dishes and slipped butter knives into small bowls of shining mayonnaise. Sweet pickles rolled on a plate and a glass pitcher of water sweated under the bright lights of the oven’s hood.
The turkey sat in a rack on the stove, its skin brown and shining with grease. My mom pulled a thick layer of fat from the gravy before she poured it into the boat resting on a saucer. Sweet potatoes were given a last whip, mashed potatoes a final mash. Heavy spoonfuls of butter were dropped on bowls of peas and succotash.
Aunts and uncles pulled our cousins through the front door by the hoods buttoned to their coats. Cold air hung onto our family while they shook coats from their long arms. Our Polish aunts were made up like drag queens. Their eyebrows stood in high arches, and their cheeks were painted with red circles. They looked like marionettes. I thought they were beautiful. Our uncles stood like mafia agents with pockmarked skin and hair greased into rows. Our cousins were wild. They ducked under their parents’ arms and snatched food from the tables. They were gypsy children, crawling under chairs and over sofas. They were unafraid of their parents, who were reaching across the tables for heavy plastic cups of beer. Our aunts wiggled their long fingers in the air before pulling the beers to their thin lips, and their heads fell back when they laughed. Everything was so funny, and the windows steamed. The laughter in the house was loud and overwhelming. It pulled my hair into a ponytail, and I shivered in my jumper. My knees bent when I carried heavy piles of scratchy coats up the stairs and dumped them on our parents’ bed.
The kitchen was a pressure cooker. The heat colored my mom and grandmom pink. The day was shot through with cold outside, and it felt grownup and special to throw open all the windows so the kitchen could shake out the heat. Our aunts and uncles lit cigarettes over their children’s heads and tapped off gray ashes into heavy glass ashtrays. Embers glowed red in the daylight of the kitchen.