2013 was the year of heartache. My two sisters and I had all just left long-term relationships and were trying desperately to rebuild. We lived off of Joni Mitchell records and $10 bottles of wine.
I was completely broke with a 2-year-old in tow. My first apartment on my own was in a dilapidated house in Amsterdam. Not the nice part. The house was in foreclosure, but was owned by a dear friend of mine who offered to let us essentially squat as long as I did more good than harm to the place. The bottom two floors were completely unusable, but the top floor might be salvaged. I could live there until the house was taken or sold.
My broken-hearted sisters and I bought a giant 5-gallon bucket of white paint, a can of spackle, and the three of us scoured, patched, and painted every surface in the place. We covered the kitchen floor in those cheap peel & stick vinyl tiles. The worst was the fridge. The place hadn't been occupied in nearly a year, and the previous tenants had never fully emptied the fridge. I opened it once and then we duct taped it shut, threw it out the third story window, and called a junk company to come haul it away.
I asked everyone I knew for secondhand furniture, gave a friend of a friend $50 for a couch, chair, and bookcase, and slept on the couch for the first 3 months. The last of my savings went towards a trip to Ikea for cheap curtains, dishes, and pillows. My hodgepodge community came through, though, and eventually my kid and I had beds to sleep on and a new fridge in our freshly "tiled" kitchen. I am eternally grateful to my friends, family, and especially to my brilliant, heroic, and tender sisters.
Of course, this would also be the first year in which none of us had anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday. There is no pressure of gift-giving, no expensive and laborious decorating, and no theme songs (Adam Sandler notwithstanding). It's simply an opportunity to get together with my favorite people, cook a ridiculous amount of food together, and eat and drink wine until we fall asleep playing board games.
So, newly single, we decided to host our own Thanksgiving, and obviously my ramshackle apartment was just the place to have it. Our brother and his wife would come up from the city (this was before they had kids when they could do glamorous things like spontaneous travel) and the 5 of us would cook our closest approximations of a Thanksgiving dinner. One sister was vegetarian (or was it vegan?) at the time, and the remaining 4 of us had no idea how to approach a turkey, so turkey meatballs and an assortment of vegetable sides was it. Everything was set.
I woke up the morning of Thanksgiving to frozen pipes. There was no water. The pipes were in the basement, and the 2 floors below me hadn't had heat on all year. Terrified, I walked down to the hand-dug cellar and found water spraying from every direction. It was a disaster.
Again, a cry for help went out, and a friend from work had a brother who was a plumber who might just be able to drop by on Thanksgiving morning to a nightmare of a house belonging to a total stranger who probably couldn't pay. Disaster. Two hours later the plumber showed up, quickly patched the pipes, wished me a happy holiday, and went on his way without charging a dime.
Pipes were fixed (for now), and dinner was back on. The siblings showed up and immediately the apartment hummed. Records were carefully selected, drinks were poured, and we set to work. I don't know if everyone has had this experience, but there is something magical about cooking with someone that you have a long history cooking with. There is a rhythm in the kitchen, a dance. My brother and sisters are my favorite people to cook (or really do anything) with. When we're cooking together, there are no recipes used, and no dish "belongs" to any one of us. We all just intrinsically know which step comes next, what each dish needs, where every ingredient is destined to go. It comes from somewhere deep within us that smells of woodfire and mint leaves and great grandma's molasses cookies. Like witches around a cauldron in the woods we called forth crispy potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, creamy risotto, perfectly sautéed spinach, caramelized carrots, and dozens of pies.
Only one fingertip was sliced off that afternoon.
We sat down together, exhausted and buzzed, around the old enamel table we grew up with, the pattern around which shows up in our earliest collective memories, and which now has lived its second, third, fourth, and fifth lives in each of our apartments at one time or another. And we ate. And we drank. And we told the stories we've told a thousand times before about the rooster feet, and the parsley on the head, and the one about when we flew out of our own skin and around the world only to crawl back in again.
Our dear friend (the unofficial fifth sibling) showed up after dinner with the biggest cheapest jug (a jug!) of wine imaginable. When the pipes burst again later that evening, we used the wine to flush the toilet when the tank was drained.
We stayed up all night playing those dumb board games and laughing so hard it drowned out the heartache. We dubbed the night "Drunk Sibling Thanksgiving" and vowed to repeat it every other year from now until eternity, and we have made good on that promise every year since.
I will miss them terribly this year.
The plumber showed up a few days later with a bag full of venison that he had left over, because at some point in our conversation I must have said that I like venison but don't have any friends who hunt. He really was the sweetest.
[the actual drunk sibling thanksgiving, with the terrible kitchen, and the childhood kitchen table]