My mother was not a cook. As luck would have it, my step-father was not an eater. Stove Top stuffing was the culinary highlight of his year, and he would sandwich it between two slices of heavily buttered Wonder bread for a delightfully squishy bread-on-bread experience.
On a good Thanksgiving, the most we could expect was good timing. The beans and the stuffing and the turkey would all arrive more or less at the same time. On a bad Thanksgiving, it was an hours long affair as we waited for the beans (which had the misfortune of looking not just limp but actually dead), followed by the mashed potatoes ten minutes later. The turkey would make an entrance fifteen minutes after that, and the gravy not long after. All other edibles, or inedibles, as it were - parker house rolls from a bag, something mushy and orange with blackened marshmallows, an odd bowl of canned Mexicali corn - trickled out of the kitchen, sometimes accompanied by smoke, or a loud exclamation of disappointment (e.g. "Shit!!") from my mother. All this was followed by the grand finale - a cold pumpkin pie in a foil pie pan with a tub of Cool Whip and instructions to "help yourself."
I always thought everyone else ate like we did, but as it turns out, other mothers cooked. People ate real food. Vegetables even. I was the Twinkie girl whose mom handed her a $5 bill and said, "Go grab some dinner at Wendy's."
Now, I make my own. Thanksgiving dinner is the one meal I cook in its entirety each year, from appetizers and turkey with gravy to many side dishes and multiple desserts. I change it up every year, never serve anything with marshmallows, and always use the same holy grail turkey recipe. I'll pass it on tomorrow. It's time tested, and makes such delicious gravy, I might put it in a demitasse and sip it whilst gazing at a crackling fire with a purring cat at my feet.
As for thanksgivings past, my stepfather always had a peanut butter sandwich right after the meal, and then some cold KFC and a butter and Stove Top sandwich a few hours later. It was a day with no apologies.