We do it every year. We cut out recipes. We make lists. We go to the commissary. We elbow each other out of the way to grab turkeys, cranberries, yams, and mini-marshmallows. We jam enough food into our pantries to feed an Army, or Navy as it were.
Why? Because it’s the holidays, of course!
When our guests politely ask, “What can we bring?” we are faced with an interesting dilemma. On one hand, our brains are about to explode over all the details of hosting, so contributions would be nice. But on the other hand, we have envisioned holiday meals using our own family traditions, and what if our guests bring dishes that are weird and unfamiliar?
I experienced this phenomenon seventeen years ago, when we were stationed at Fort Ord, California. Unable to fly back east to spend the holiday with our relatives, we accepted an invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner at another family’s house on base.
“What can I bring?” I asked the other wife. “Uh, well, um….” she stuttered nervously, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
I fancied myself a pretty darned good cook back in those days (before kids turned my brain to mush and our staple food into mac-n-cheese, mind you) and was looking forward to contributing to the meal. “What? But, but, you’ve got to let me bring something,” I exclaimed. “Well, alright then, how ‘bout you bring frozen corn.”
Frozen corn? Are you kidding me? She wasn’t.
Over the next few days, I hounded the other spouse, offering my Sausage Apple Pecan Cornbread Dressing, my Guiness Gravy, my Swiss Onion Bread, my Waldorf Salad. She resisted, but finally agreed to let me bring a lousy pumpkin pie and a tub of Cool Whip.
I swallowed my disappointment that Thanksgiving — along with her bland stuffing and starchy gravy – and resolved to make what I wanted from then on.
However, year after year, the same dilemma kept cropping up, and I realized something. Whether a military spouse is the host or the guest, military spouses don’t like to give up their holiday traditions.
So, unless we want to spend holiday meals alone, we’d better learn to compromise.
If you are a guest, don’t turn your nose up at your hostess’ jellied cranberry sauce because you only make it from scratch. Don’t judge your host if he doesn’t brine the bird, and then make passive aggressive comments like, “Could you pass the canned gravy? I think I’ve got some meat stuck in my throat.” Don’t be bitter that you weren’t able to show off your Pecan Cheesecake with the Gingersnap Crust. Just eat whatever they serve you and shut your pumpkin pie hole.
If you are hosting, let your guests bring their Tex Mex corn dish even if it might clash with your Ambrosia. Who cares if your friend has a different take on sweet potatoes – surely, no one has ever died from not eating marshmallows. You can give up your stinking Parker House rolls just this once, and let them bring their Gammie’s Poppy Seed Loaf if it makes them feel at home. You’ll survive.
Besides, this is the time of year that we’re supposed to think about all the things we’re thankful for, and isn’t that being able to celebrate the holidays with our family and friends? NOT the Green Bean Casserole, for Pete’s sake.
Think of it this way: good friends and family are the meat and potatoes of life. The food? Well, no matter whether it’s canned, powdered, or slow cooked from the drippings, it’s just the gravy.