The living room looks like a battlefield. A moaning cousin lays on every surface available: couches, recliners, carpeting, even the cool tiles of our hearth. We all breathe heavily in unison, as if expelling air will also ease the the pressure caused by one helping too many. I recline on the floor, watching the thick snowflakes dance outside the living room window. They taunt us to pull on our snow pants and join them, but even our love of snowball fights won’t make us move. If we did, we might die.
Thanksgiving is a magical holiday full of food and family and no responsibilities. I wake up to a fully cooked turkey in the oven, tables that sprouted in the basement overnight and the excitement of the New York parade on TV. I greet guests who suddenly appear at our door, bearing pots of mashed potatoes, plates of salads, trays of turkey and tins of pies. The house is always spotless on Thanksgiving — I’m pretty sure that’s also the holiday magic — even though I never saw anyone cleaning it. My mom smiles and laughs and drinks a lot of coffee.
I roll on my stomach and watch aunt after aunt carry trays of dirty dishes from our basement to the kitchen. My grandma mans her usual post at the sink despite her six daughters’ frequent clucks and demands that she sit down. She won’t rest until the work is finished, even if it means she’ll be sore for days. Occasionally, an aunt stops to survey the pile of lethargic kids, all rendered useless after that last bite of pumpkin pie (smothered with ice cream, whipped cream and candy corn, of course). She scans the room for signs of life, shakes her head and returns to the whirring kitchen.
Downstairs, my uncles grunt and thud as they fold and stack dozens of borrowed tables and chairs onto a dolly. The tables, usually used for business lunches and meetings, spend one day a year holding 65 heaping plates of food, 10 paper turkeys and 25 dishes of candy corn.
My mom emerges from the staircase and hands me my Amy Grant CD, which my cousin Erin and I had used for a pre-dinner dance performance that will haunt us for years. “Put this in your room,” Mom instructs, giving me the you should be helping look. I ignore her and roll over, groaning at the effort.
After an hour, my tryptophan haze gives way to a clean house, an empty dishwasher and a table-free basement, all without our having to lift a finger. My cousins and I — now clear-eyed and excited — hatch a plan to see Aladdin in the theater, and we roll our eyes when our parents say they need a nap first.
Adults are always tired.
Elissa Englund grew up in Northern Michigan and lives in New York City, where she works as a copy editor for Time magazine. She is a founder of the online literary magazine A Tale of Four Cities and has a blog called Too Many Commas. She’s co-hosting her first Thanksgiving today — without any magic.