Small Wonders: Indulging in delicious routines

I cheated.

I admit it here before all seven of you readers. I cheated. Sure, my wife is disappointed. But she doesn't understand the seduction, the raw power this craving has over me, the mysterious carnal desire deep within my being. I couldn't hold back.

I ate pumpkin pie Thanksgiving morning.

It wasn't a leftover. It was breakfast. I couldn't wait until after dinner, and I don't regret it. Like vengeance, pumpkin pie is a dish best served cold — with a cup of coffee.

Maybe I just wanted something a little different this year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; a fete with no strings attached. You're not expected to buy the newest singing greeting card, or the hot gift of the year — the iPad is the Tickle Me Elmo of 2010, in case you're wondering what to get me. No flowers, chocolate bunnies or costumes. Simply gather loved ones, cook a huge meal, give thanks for your blessings and eat until your aorta spasms.

Having said that, can I be honest? It's gotten a little boring. The same thing year after year. Same people. Same place. Same food. Same stories.

We show up at Grandma's house mid-afternoon. Things 1 and 2 retire straight to the den where they watch TV until they go pale and limp.

The odd coupling of potato chips and guacamole are the appetizer. No stinky cheese plate or olive tapenade. Nothing en croute. No French onion dip. Nope. Potato chips and guacamole. Why? I have no idea. But it doesn't matter. It's decimated five minutes after the nephews arrive. At 18 and 21, they are more mobile gullets than young men.

I'm asked to open a bottle of wine, a task I perform gladly. Drinks poured, we settle into the kitchen. Though the living room has couches, a roaring fire and big-screen TV, we sit on folding chairs in the crowded, smoky kitchen.

Invariably, one of the mobile gullets has the audacity to whip me with a dish-towel. This affront, as all know, beckons the wrath of God upon the whipper. I respect his challenge though; a young cub striving to raise his stature in the clan. But in my hands, the dish-towel is a registered weapon in 18 states and three Canadian provinces. He goes home covered in welts the size and color of baby leatherback turtles.

I nibble constantly at any food being prepared. My favorite is to pick the crusty part of the stuffing from the turkey cavity, dip it in hot gravy and scald my mouth. While Grandpa attempts to carve the bird, my sister and I risk sever digits to snag bits of caramelized skin covered in pan juice. Grandpa loves it when we do this.

At dinner, I'm asked to say grace. I comply by saying, "grace" then dive in — a joke that never gets old. The turkey is moist; the potatoes mashed from scratch are fluffy; the steamed green beans with onion and bacon are flavorful.

As we eat, we relive embarrassing stories for each person at the table. Things 1 and 2 take this as their cue to go back to the den. That's good, because their grandmother left something in the oven. When the smoke reaches us, she lets loose with a wine-fueled stream of expletives that would make Mel Gibson blush.

The meal itself ends almost as soon as it started. I was full before I sat down. But we continue to sit at the table throwing loving verbal darts at one another. The goal is to get Grandma crying with laughter. And we always get there.

I make dessert: pumpkin pie from my recipe and pecan from my sister's. She lives too far away to join us, so this is how she attends. The snarky 24-year-old niece asks for a slice of lemon pie. There is no lemon pie of course. But this perennial request conjures the jovial memory of my brother-in-law. He's asleep on the couch in heaven.

When cleanup starts, we stuff bags full of leftovers with the desperation of a U.N. supply drop in Rwanda. My mother takes this opportunity to get rid of beer that's been under her sink for six years, unopened port cheese from a 1994 gift basket and a potted plant from the backyard. As we drive away, she stands outside waving, telling us to buckle up even though we already have.

So, like I said, it's gotten rather boring. I guess that's OK though. Like pie, coffee and leftovers, routine and sameness can be comforting. There's nothing wrong with a little change once in a while. But in a world full of it, knowing exactly how things are going to turn out once each year is kind of nice.

And the cheating? I'd do it all over again.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the upcoming book "Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human." Check it out at He can be reached at

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