by Mimi Montgomery
photographs by Keith Isaacs
Holidays have always been an interesting time in my family’s household. My father embraces the months of November and December with the goofy spirit of a thousand Clark Griswolds, my aunts call with fierce interrogations (Yes, I am still single; no, I do not want to take care of your cat), and my mother pushes herself to marathon-like exhaustion, cleaning and cooking enough food to feed the entire occupancy of a Carnival Cruise ship.
All this chaotic hubbub, of course, means my brother and I have to make ourselves conveniently scarce and seek solace in the basement. And by basement I mean the economy pack of seasonal beer my mother buys from Costco.
Yes, my family is most definitely of the loud, eccentric variety, forever in situations that we find entertaining and that come across to others as evidences of certifiable insanity.
There was the year my elderly grandmother showed up to Thanksgiving dinner with a foot-tall, grey-purple wig that crescendoed over her head. It was a fantastic display of aeronautical engineering. “Don’t let her get too close to the candles,” my brother said, helping to take her coat off. “She might go up like Baked Alaska.” My dad, pulling out our chairs, leaned over to me and whispered: “That wig makes Grams look exactly like Prince,” then proceeded to hum Purple Rain over his green beans the rest of the evening.
Then there was the year my brother and I hosted a party the evening before Thanksgiving; we awoke the next day to find that a particularly festive guest had eaten all four of the pies my mother had prepared (she cried; we had to buy pies from Food Lion). Or the year my New Age yogi father made us participate in an “interactive blessing”: We each rubbed our palms together to create frictional “vibes,” then passed along said vibes to our confused guests with some awkward hand-holding. Or the year my mother put the turkey in the dishwasher instead of the oven – a minor detail, all in all.
As the years have progressed, cousins have grown up and moved far away, and grandparents have gotten too old to travel. This means our Thanksgivings have recently been of the friends-giving variety, with close family friends in lieu of traditional relatives. This has cranked the psychotic dial up full-blast, as the only people crazier than those in our immediate gene pool are the ones with whom we voluntarily opt to spend our time.
Now my mother and her kooky coterie hold court from dilapidated wicker chairs on our back porch, which she also conveniently uses as a second refrigerator in the cold winter months. Nestled between loaves of bread and covered quiches, they speak in decibels that put cracks in the house foundation and reverberate across county lines. My mother’s happy there in her patchy, 10-dollar fur coat we like to call “The Cat,” which makes her look like a sick animal with mange, a lit Parliament in one hand and our geriatric Jack Russell in the other. I tell her they should hand out complimentary inhalers or gas masks at the door – there’s enough smoke out there to fill a 19th-century opium den.
Yes, this is home, but lest you think I reside in a Tennessee Williams play, among the craziness and nicotine clouds is nestled a lot of friendship, togetherness, and love. Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home again, but I disagree: I’m never happier than when I’m surrounded by these characters of my life, and whenever I think of our rag-tag Thanksgiving gatherings, I am home.
Which brings me to our drink recipe for this November: A festive punch meant to be enjoyed by a homeful of the characters you call your own.
The communal cocktail that is punch is designed to bring people together in sharing and celebration, no matter the group dynamic or circumstances. I think it’s what Squanto and the gang would have wanted when showing those new Puritanical neighbors how to really party in Plymouth. Because at the end of each Thanksgiving day, it’s not really about what you eat or drink – be it punch, an entire Costco pack of seasonal beer, or apple cider; maize, Chinese takeout, or Tofurkey. It’s about realizing what’s most important: A house filled with togetherness, sharing, lots of love, and – above all – thanks.
From Jessie Eisenmann of Wine Authorities
4 ounces Mas Codina Cava Brut Reserva
¼ ounce Alley Twenty Six Tonic Syrup (made in Durham and available at Wine Authorities)
¼ ounce cranberry simple syrup*
¼ ounce lemon juice
Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Pour syrups and juice into flute or wine glass. Top with cava and garnish with a rosemary sprig. To make ahead, mix the tonic syrup, cranberry simple syrup, and lemon juice and refrigerate. When ready to serve, add ¾ ounce of the mixture to glass and top with cava and rosemary.
*Cranberry Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
Combine the sugar, water, and cranberries in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer while stirring to completely dissolve the sugar. Simmer until the cranberries have popped and remove from heat. Cool completely. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Seal tightly and store in the refrigerator.