Thanksgivings in Space


I’ve always been terrified of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. There are too many expectations to live up to, especially because I married into a family of gourmet cooks. And while I know my husband, who is a wonderful cook himself, would be more than happy to help me prepare the feast, I worry that anything I make will be haunted by the ghosts of far superior roast turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the other table-crushing assortment of dishes we both enjoyed in the carefree Thanksgivings of our youths. Plus it’s just a heck of a lot of work.

So mostly I try to get out of the Thanksgiving responsibilities. Over the years we’ve enjoyed many turkey dinners in restaurants. This is always nice because the food just magically appears at your table, and then just as magically disappears, along with all those dirty dishes, when you’re done.

But this year we decided to go to Disneyland. It was a crazy idea, at least for us. We’re both a little phobic of large crowds, and Thanksgiving in the Land of Mouse promised to be mayhem. Plus I had gone to Disney World when I was 10, and the only memory I had was of frantically chasing after my little cousin, trying to catch her before she vanished into the mass of people all around us. She was two years-old, the same age my daughter is now, and I dreaded the thought of reliving that experience. But of course, as soon as I spoke the idea aloud, my son was beside himself with excitement. So we went.

The first day (a Monday) I was worried that we had made a terrible mistake. There were crowds–big ones–and long lines for most of the rides. By the time we had ridden Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the carousel, we were already tired. My son even asked to go back to the hotel.

But then we stumbled into the Enchanted Tiki Room, where at least there were benches and pineapple ice cream drinks while we waited outside for the show. And then we went inside. The mechanical birds began to sing. My daughter’s eyes grew round. She turned her head to look back at me. And then she smiled. And I relaxed.

The rest of the trip was wonderful. The crowds were much smaller the next day, and by Wednesday we hardly had to wait for more than fifteen minutes for most of the rides. And although my daughter refused to ride in her stroller, she did hold onto my hand in the crowds. She even did okay in the lines, although she insisted on climbing every square inch of railing, and then clinging to it like a kudzu vine whenever I tried to move her. (She also clung to the cart of the Go Coaster when we were supposed to get off, and screamed, “No! I try again! I try again!”)

Occasionally I thought about what it meant to be spending Thanksgiving at Disneyland. It wasn’t, after all, a traditional experience, although we did spring for the Thanksgiving Feast in the Disneyland Hotel, which had every manner of traditional Thanksgiving food and then some. The dessert table alone was a decadence bordering on obscenity. The children’s buffet had a carver waiting to personally slice your child’s pizza. If the goal of the Thanksgiving meal is to stuff yourself like a foie gras goose, Disneyland more than delivered.

But it still didn’t feel quite like a traditional Thanksgiving. And I wondered about tradition, and why it matters. Growing up, my family was never particularly bound by tradition. We once had Thanksgiving without the turkey when I was a vegetarian, and one year we had a bouquet of roses instead of a Christmas tree. But I do have a lot of nostalgia for the traditions we did keep when I was a child, especially making hard candy with my Mom, and playing and singing music around the piano as a family. Those memories are indelible: I think about them and suddenly I am five, or eight, or fifteen again. I am all of those ages at once.

I was worried that this was the one element that was missing from our Disneyland trip, unless we could somehow afford to repeat the experience every year (I was afraid of that expectation too, since the happiest place on earth is definitely not the cheapest). And then I found it, of all places, on the Space Mountain ride.

My husband does not like Space Mountain, so I agreed to ride it with my son. He was chattering nervously the whole way through the Fast Pass line, while I laughed to myself about the Space Mountain signs, which were written in that font that was supposed to look so futuristic and high tech to those of us who were born in the seventies. Now it just looked dated.

We got on the ride, and made that slow clicking ascent that always gives you time to wonder if strapping yourself into this thing was such a good idea (what if it’s not just the font that’s outdated?). And then we were zooming in a fast spiral in the dark through a galaxy of stars that appeared to emanate from something that looked very much like a disco ball. And suddenly I was fourteen years old, screaming in the dark next to a friend who had come with me on our eighth grade band trip to Disneyworld. The cool breeze from the ride felt wonderful after walking all day in the sweltering Orlando heat. I felt alive, and scared, and courageous all at once. It all came back, even though I knew I was two thousand miles and over two decades away from the time, place, and person I was in that memory.

I didn’t tell my son about my trip back into the past, but I was happy that we had come. We all had a great week together, and although he was grief-stricken on our last day of the park, my son was already planning our next visit. I don’t know if we’ll be able to manage the trip every year, but we’ll definitely be back. I think it will be a wonderful tradition, and hopefully some day my kids will be able to ride Space Mountain, or some other ride, with their own kids, and remember a time when they sat there next to me, waiting for the excitement to begin.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. laura1107
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 17:40:55

    I loved this piece Ashley. Wish I had written it. It brought so much up for me: fear of cooking large dinners for people, lack of family tradition and mostly Thanksgiving in Disneyland. We went when David was about 18 months and had a sumptuous feast at Paradise Pier. But what stands out was our waiter, who had a little brother and knew how to delight David. David was saying, “Joey,” for weeks afterwards and claims he remembers him to this day.

    We loved Thanksgiving on the cruise this year–though I had fish. I remember the year a bodyworker told me she was having meatballs and spaghetti for Thanksgiving. We all need permission to break from routine and I somehow found this delightful.

    And btw, Howard loves the Tiki Room. Our children brought him a beautiful plaque from that very place for his last birthday.

    Reply

  2. ash
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 12:28:12

    Your Disney and cruise Thanksgiving memories sound wonderful, Laura! Thank you for sharing them. I think it’s fun (and daring!) to start your own traditions. How else do traditions get started?

    Reply

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