Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving (#98)


My in-laws lived in Honolulu. My husband and I went there for our first Thanksgiving together.

You’re probably having the same reaction as most new acquaintances and coworkers. “Your in-laws live in Hawaii?! How awesome is that?”

Once upon a time, I gushed along with them. “I know! I’m so lucky! A free place to stay! Warm sand, sunny beaches, turquoise waters!”

But Andy and I lived less than two miles from the beach in Southern California (currently with multiple November highs of 87 degrees). We’d just come back from our honeymoon on the beach in Mexico. Even our wedding week in New Hampshire had been unseasonably warm and sunny (with the exception of the downpour and hurricane force winds during our ceremony, of course).

To a Washington, D.C. native like me, it’s not Thanksgiving unless it’s cold and rainy. Sunshine came only with an icy wind. My siblings and I sat inside by the fire, watching the Macy’s parade or football. We played cards and helped in the kitchen, peeling potatoes or snapping the green beans. My sisters snuck skin off the turkey, despite dire warnings about salmonella from Ex-Stepfather’s Third Wife. I washed hundreds of dishes and stuffed myself with Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister’s baked brie or Big Brother’s mushroom caps.

Every year Ex-stepfather tried to get homemade cranberry jelly to gel in an ancient rose mold. The cranberries were consistently recalcitrant. We laughed as it inevitably fell apart, and handed my Ex-Stepfather a glass of red wine.

“Almost,” we ‘d tell him. “You’ll get it next year.” The year I got engaged to Andy, we even meant it. The rose held its shape as Ex-Stepfather proudly carried it to the dining tables set for over 20 people, shaped like a giant U.

We cheered as he set down the mold. The cranberry rose promptly melted into a gelatinous puddle.

I figured Andy’s family gathered in the kitchen and around the table in a similar fashion.

Classic entitled white East Coast Anglo-American assumption, right there.


With the exception of some ill-fated Vietnamese pancakes, I discover that no one in my husband’s family cooked on Thanksgiving Day in Hawaii. It was too hot.

Andy’s mother, Sunny, hit a restaurant on the way home from work. She brought home turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie. Andy unpacked the bags while Sunny got out the plates. Then she tossed some utensils on the table, and said, “Here you go. Eat!”

I picked up a fork and hesitantly asked, “Popo isn’t coming?”

Sunny said, “Nah, we will see her at dim sum tomorrow. Eat!”

I looked around. Andy’s father had disappeared. “Shouldn’t we wait for Jay?”

Andy shrugged. He already had a mouthful of food.

Sunny snorted. “Daddy is probably gambling online.” Sunny picked up a fork. She peppered Andy with questions about his job and our honeymoon.

I ate a little. The potatoes tasted like plastic. The turkey had minimal taste, and the gravy tasted so synthetic I wished it didn’t have any taste. The pie was okay, at least.

Three of us, sitting in a hot kitchen, eating takeout, didn’t feel like Thanksgiving at all. I missed the familial horde, the home-cooked food, the jokes, and the cursed cranberry rose mold.

I ordered myself not to cry into my pie while Sunny told Andy which neighbors bitched about the leaves from her mango trees landing in their yard – not to be confused with the other neighbors, the ones who smoked so much that she, Sunny, was undoubtedly going to die of cancer. She probably had it already, she said.

My phone rang. Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister’s phone number lit up the screen. I left Andy to bond with Sunny and went to the bedroom.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” Lawyer Sis carolled. “You’re not gonna believe this! The cranberries MOLDED!”

“No way! I mean, of course, way, since I’m not there to see it,” I groaned and fell on the bed. “How do they taste?”

“No idea. Everyone’s afraid to touch it. Ex-Stepfather glares if anyone gets within a foot of the plate.”

“What’s the count on wine bottles?”

“Fifteen so far.”

“My God, you are all lushes.” And damn it, I missed my lushes. A tear dripped out of the corner of my eye.

“Not our fault. Baby Singing Sister was singing in the kitchen while doing dishes, and then Ex-Stepfather’s Third Wife told her she was sharp, and you can guess how that went over. Ex-Stepfather’s Third Wife took down a bottle all on her own after that. I think Baby Singing Sister retreated to her room and I’m pretty sure she took a bottle, too. And then at dinner Big Brother slipped up and made some comment about how he and his wife have so much trouble getting pregnant, only Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister overheard, and so then Doc Sis loudly told everyone that all she needed was the turkey baster and she could totally fix Big Brother’s Wife’s fertility issues.”

Incredulity dried my tears. “Holy shit.”

“No shit. And so then everybody drank some more, except for Ex-Stepfather, who started reminiscing about how easily our dead mother got pregnant, so I think his wife and Big Brother’s Wife polished off a bottle recovering from that, but he didn’t stop there. He went on about how the not having kids thing was why his Oldest Daughter’s husband left her –”

“Wait. Oldest Daughter didn’t come to Thanksgiving?”

“Oh, no, she was there, sitting two seats down, with her new boyfriend. And so they must’ve each had their own bottles after that. Maybe two. And by then Ex-Stepfather was in full maudlin mode, and he just wouldn’t shut up and so we all drank until we just didn’t fucking care anymore. Hang on.”

I heard gulping noises and guessed, “Making it 16?”

“Yeah, I was starting to get pissed off again. Where was I? Did I get to Ex-Stepfather’s Third Wife’s insistence that Oldest Son is clearly schizophrenic and not just a slacker?”

“You did not.”

Lawyer Sis told me all about schizophrenia/ slacker, plus certain family members finding out about Baby Brother’s overnight stay in a New Orleans’ jail, and I can’t remember what else. What I do remember, other than lots of exclamations, was that I felt better. Possibly from laughing. Possibly because Lawyer Sister had reminded me of the other, less pleasant side of family gatherings.

The sniping.

The drama.

The relentless judgments of a critical, over-competitive family – each member certain that they, and only they, have the perfect solution to your problems and goddamn it, if you would just LISTEN…

This year, I didn’t have to listen. I didn’t have to spend the Thanksgiving holiday feeling emotionally wrung out and like I needed a vacation from my vacation.

This year, I was actually IN one of the most famous vacation spots in the entire world.

I interrupted Lawyer Sister in mid-reminisce about her ex-boyfriend and the bunny made of poop in Ex-Stepfather’s backyard. “Hey, Sis, I gotta go.”

“But wait! Don’t you wanna talk to anyone else? I can pass the phone around!”

“NO, no, I’m good. Take care, bye!”

I disconnected.

I got in my swimsuit.

I collected my husband.

And then Andy and I went off to bask on the white sand and ride the warm surf at Makapu’u.

It wasn’t my idea of a traditional Thanksgiving.

But it was a damned fine vacation day.

View from Makapu’u lighthouse

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

29 thoughts on “Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving (#98)”

  1. So smart to turn that one around. Sometimes our brain only keeps the good part of the memories. I remember our big family Thanksgivings too. Then I remember SIL #1 was a bitch and tried to ruin it; my mother freaking out because she had been up cooking since 5 a.m.; my brother brought mincemeat pies instead of pumpkin (yikes!); etc. Still, I have good memories of everyone dozing from tryptophan overload while the football games were on. Too bad we can’t cut and paste like you can with a document.

  2. Haha…. Good idea to hit the beach. Your family’s Thanksgiving sounds like a hoot. Ohhh, and you sent me to the dictionary for one of your words, “recalcitrant”. Have you gone back for any other Hawaiian Thanksgivings?

  3. My experience didn’t have nearly as much sniping (or I was drunk enough not to notice). It had more bleeding, though.

  4. Mincemeat? Oh, the humanity!

    I laughed over how your good memories of family occur while everyone is sleeping.

    My brain usually keeps the bad stuff — especially if it’s something that I did. On the other hand, I have a prenatal unit who only remembers the good stuff. (Luckily, I am there to remind her of all the crap.)

      1. My memories of Christmases are blurred as it mine and my dad’s birthday around that time too. And we Austrians, just like Germans, are known as heavy drinkers. I don’t want to accuse anyone of alcoholsim, but we most probably are.

  5. We have less and less people at Thanksgiving; no drama but we’re loud and boisterous (even without alcohol although there’s that, too) and can be a bit overwhelming for the spouses of the siblings. One of my best friends moved to Fresno where it’s just her and her husband. Last year they camped and hiked in Joshua Tree and are considering the same this year. In a way I envy them that they can do what they want but then I think I’d miss the loud family.

  6. Yeah, I miss my loud family, but it does help to remember some of the their less pleasant aspects. And since I don’t usually have alcohol to dilute the memories, I think I remember a little more than some of them… Okay, ALL of them. Unless I had a pregnant sister.

    Andy finds my family a little overwhelming. Luckily, they serve good beer, which makes them tolerable.

  7. Sounds like you went from upset to feeling okay all within a few minutes. How about that. It sounds like a soap opera going on there on the other end of the phone. I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard clinking of bottle noises, beer cans and wine glasses down the phone. Your family might be a rowdy bunch, but at least they are open and honest with each other 🙂

  8. Aww…I’m glad you adapted and reframed your first thanksgiving in Hawaii. Was this the first time you had thanksgiving away from your family?

    OTOH, it really doesn’t make sense to go all out for thanksgiving if it’s only for four people.

    So who decides New Years?

  9. Well, I had spent one T-day with my dad in Utah, I think, and one with friends in LA when I was broke.

    Yeah, Hawaii is better suited for perhaps frying or smoking a turkey outside. And no, for a small crowd a giant turkey makes no sense.

    NYE is a joint decision (i.e., I decide). Usually a big dance party in LA or Palm Springs or San Diego.

  10. Ahhh, the holidays. Such a mixed bag of nuts. I like to pick out the ones that I like and ignore the other nuts. Sometimes I give those “other” nuts a try and they’re okay. They remind me why I like the nuts that I do.

    I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere…in the nuts.

    Happy Turkey Day!

  11. What a contrast between your two families’ ways of celebrating Thanksgiving!

    When I was a kid, we had Norman Rockwell Thanksgivings. My grandma was an excellent cook; the men smoked in the living room after dinner; the women did the dishes (and seemed to enjoy it); and nobody fought.

    Then we moved to the Philippines where turkeys weren’t available and our relatives were far away, so we ate roast chicken. This year we have a small group, so we’re having chicken again. Either way, it’s good to give thanks.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. Oh, that does sound idyllic. Except for the dishes and the smoking. I envy you your non-problematic family gatherings.

      And it is good to concentrate on all that we do have, rather than all that we don’t. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

  12. Happy early Thanksgiving~! (I hope I didn’t get it wrong…)

    When I started reading this post, I was thinking “Is this from this year? Was Thanksgiving already over?”, but then I remembered what one of my professors said, which is “Tomorrow everyone is free because we also celebrate the American holidays” — she meant at her other work place.

    Anyway, this was an interesting article to read. You get to understand that people aren’t much different from one another and that families are pretty much constructed and work in the same way.

  13. Thanks, Mei — yes, it is from a previous Thanksgiving. I have a lot of previous Thanksgiving posts this year!

    And you’e right — there are all kinds of families. They all make us nuts some times. Just in different ways.

  14. Have you watched “What’s Cooking?” By Gurinder Chadha?

    It’s a nice little movie about multicultural thanksgiving celebrations in LA. I think you’d like it.

    You should be able to rent it (streaming) from Amazon.

    Btw, Chadha is the same woman who directed “Bend it like Beckham.”

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