A lap will work, sure. So will a tray, or a bar top, a counter, or a coffee table. But for that quintessential, Norman Rockwell’s grandma-in-her-apron, turkey-in-the-middle-of-the-table look, you need a bona fide table, whether it seats two or 20.
Here’s a Thanksgiving “thank you” to marketing and advertising people everywhere, for proclaiming that, especially in the bridal business, “tabletop” isn’t just a word; it’s a genre. As opposed to must-have stuff that goes on the counter (food processor, knife block), or on the stove (pots, pans), or on the bed (sheets, blankets), the category has to do with everything that goes on the table. Forks, spoons, knives; mugs, cups, goblets; place mats, place cards, pitchers, platters, plates. Whew.
Time for Thanksgiving, the ultimate tabletop holiday.
You inheritors and descendants can finally pull the strictly-annual-use silver pieces out of the chests and sideboards and wherever you hide them to avoid thieves and conceal tarnish. The squareish, lidless saltcellar, a fairy’s sandbox, with the beautiful, cobalt-blue enameled interior and the teensy spoon. That silver stuffing spoon as long as your forearm — so you can scoop deep inside the turkey cavity without dragging your sleeve — that doesn’t fit in a drawer, and that someone had to tell you what it was when it arrived as a wedding present. I’ll put out the ornate cigarette lighter that sat on a grandmother’s coffee table forever, because it’s not a relic; it’s a memento that’s nevertheless sterling silver, and archaically cool, despite being useless. Of the silver, though, the only bits I really care about are the goblets.
As a child, I thought those goblets wondrous things. You could see your reflected, distorted face in their surfaces, draw your fingers through the frosty condensation, bite the rims, thin as a knife blade, and shiver when your front teeth in braces met the metal, a feeling akin to chewing tinfoil. Call me materialistic, but those goblets are still wondrous things, especially for Thanksgiving. Thank you, silversmiths and mother-in-law. Thank you, the couple who lived next to my parents in Larchmont. Thank you, godmother and parents of best-growing-up friend, for the silver. Thank you, college roommate, for the silver candlesnuffer, because what else will the children fight over if not who gets to extinguish the candles? Thank you, givers of tabletop gifts, before there was such a genre.
I’m lobbying for ridding the South of The Children’s Table. Kiddos behave better in the company of adults — assuming the adults are behaving. Manners, conversational skills, trying a taste of the giblet gravy, putting away the cell phone before my mother takes your head off — these are all useful life skills acquired at a Thanksgiving table. If you have more than one table, here’s a fairer way to seat folks (plus it gives a child something to do, as well as math practice): Assign each table a number (one, two, three). Count seats at the table (eight, six, four, whatever). Make slips of paper with one, two, or three written on them. Put them in the roll bowl (before adding the rolls). Have everyone draw. The result? Table assignments that involve no fault, guilt, or double-dealing, and, best of all, no place cards stuck in a pinecone. Thank you, sheer-luck seating. And thank you, summer job waiting tables in a fancy club, because I can, by golly, fold a cloth napkin to look like a turkey’s fanned feathers.
Thank you, ovens and electricity, because nothing will save an undercooked turkey. Thank you, 18-pounders, since I normally have to dance with a raw chicken to figure out which side is the breast (put its legs down, grab the wings, walk it around; OK, there, that’s the belly), but not so with a turkey. Something else to be grateful for: an obvious This Side Up.
Thank you for this food on the table, and to the person or persons who cleverly, crisply pickled okra and dilly beans to adorn my Bloody Mary. Thank you for the fact that, as host, I don’t have to worry about a variety of colors and textures on the table. Thanksgiving is brown. Brown turkey. Brown stuffing. Brown gravy. Brown persimmon pudding. Brown carrot cake. Browned saltines on top of the oyster casserole. Even the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes get brown. The pumpkin pie is brown. If you have it, brown-themed china. The centerpiece cornucopia, made of wicker or grapevines, is brown. That’s OK. Brown is cozy. It’s right for Thanksgiving. Plenty of turkeys are brown even when they’re upright and running around.
Thank you, tablemates, for someone else saying the blessing, for going around the table, saying something you’re thankful for. Thank you for avoiding the topics of religion, politics, and your dreams. Thank you for someone singing “Over the River and Through the Woods.” And if you’re lucky enough to be a guest this year, thank you for saying “ooh” and “ahh,” for exclaiming over the perfect Thanksgiving table, even if the (green!) beans got a little too limp.
You can have Thanksgiving without a table — like most holidays, it’ll arrive whether you’re ready or not — but something will feel amiss. The camaraderie, the old stories, the nudging elbows and crowded plates and casserole dishes and candles and conversation. The making of new friends, the rememberings of others. Thank you, then, for tables filled with laughter and tolerance and turkey, ringed ’round with friends and family and children with entirely white — rather than brown — plates: white meat, white rice, white mashed potatoes. Thank you again, brides everywhere, for helping deem “tabletop” an actual category on a gift registry.
And then, when the clearing and cleaning begins, of all that you bought, inherited, or were given, there’s that most necessary tabletop genre: Dishwasher Safe. For that, be most grateful of all.