Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for pumpkin pie, good cheer, sweaters...and loved ones swilling booze and going at it. Yes, Thanksgiving family tension -- if not outright violence -- is a tradition as time-honored as postprandial football. Inspired by this recent article in the New York Times, we asked the Houston Press staff about their fondest - okay, scariest - Thanksgiving memories, and Olivia Flores Alvarez, Craig Hlavaty and John Nova Lomax shared some doozies. Feel free to tell us about your own nightmarish holidays in the comments.
Olivia Flores Alvarez: We were at my cousin E's once when I was like 10 years old. E's dad, a white guy who was also named E, was a German who hated Mexicans. So why he married my aunt H I will never know. And why they invited all of her relatives over to the house every holiday, I really don't know.
I was sitting at the kitchen table watching H chop celery for the dressing. E Sr. was more than halfway to being drunk, and he started fighting with H. We had all already said, "Wouldn't it be nice to have one holiday that didn't involve a trip to the ER or somebody filling out a police report?" So H was trying to be cool. Finally, I don't know what E Sr. said, but my aunt H went from chopping celery to slicing E Sr.'s arm, and back to chopping celery in one smooth swoop. I mean she had timing - chop, chop, slice, chop. I remember thinking, "Dang, now we can't have no dressing."
E Sr. went on to holler about "German blood has been spilled, German blood has been spilled," like that was news, and H didn't cut him every holiday (and most Saturdays, for that matter). I think they put that on his tombstone: "German blood has been spilled."
Craig Hlavaty: In 1995, my family went to Corpus Christi to visit our Grandpa Gonzalez in Corpus Christi for Thanksgiving dinner. The family entrusted the food portion of the festivities with Freddy, the son of my grandfather's second wife, Ana. This makes him sort of like my second uncle, if that's possible.
At the time, Freddy was working out in Oakland, California at a swanky West Coast wine bar. Apparently he had picked up a few "pointers" out that way on how to put on a neo-traditional Thanksgiving feast, which he boasted would be our first "California Thanksgiving."
First he began boiling an entire 20-pound turkey in a weird gray broth with exotic spices, which pretty much made the older people in the family flip shit. It was like watching a slow-cooking car crash. Honest to goodness, the turkey itself turned gray. Freddy was also seen preparing a seaweed soup to pour over the gray turkey.
His sides weren't so much bad as they alienated people in the throng. To many of the group it was heresy -- he might as well have been baking with copies of the Bible. Sadly, there was no green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, or ham to be seen anywhere. He somehow incorporated flour tortillas into the mix..
Dinner went off with a lot of silent grumbling outside and underground sobbing by the younger kids in the family. There were more than enough leftovers, but most people drove home empty-handed and bitter. On the way home from Corpus, my mother stopped by Kroger to buy everything we needed for our own traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home. To this day, I can't see dish water without gagging a little.
John Nova Lomax: After a trip to Spain, my grandfather Moe Taylor returned with an affinity for squid. For a summer and fall, he put it in everything he cooked. He genuinely liked the taste of it, but I've always thought that what he loved even more was its price. You could buy it at bait shops! For pennies a pound! This was a man who proudly served Blue Nun and Cold Duck as the family's Turkey Day tipples.
Anyway, one year, he proudly carved the turkey and served us all a plate, piled high with stuffing. My grandmother Susy took one bite and her face darkened.
"Harry Taylor," she growled. Harry was Moe's birth name, and Susy only used it when Moe was in big trouble. "You put squid in this stuffing, didn't you?"
A collective groan erupted from all the children at the table, and with the revelation of a cephalopod in the turkey's body cavity, Thanksgiving was ruined for all of us.
Another bizarre seafood combination was delivered only to me. I asked my grandmother for a glass of chocolate milk to go with my Thanksgiving dinner, and she returned with a tall plastic tumbler. I took a big swig, and my stomach turned. Whatever was in that tumbler sure wasn't chocolate milk. I spit a whole mouthful out on the clean linen tablecloth.
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"John Nova! What's wrong?"
"This chocolate milk is really gross," I said.
As it always is when you stir the Hershey's powder in a glass of clam chowder someone has left in the fridge...
And then there was the time two of our mutts got in a nasty, snarling fight under the table during the meal, one that actually resulted in a huge puddle of blood, but I think that might have been an Easter lunch...And that other time one sibling called the cops during the meal to come take another sibling away. But that's another story for another year.