There's nothing to get you into the mood for a Thanksgiving gathering like a little H1N1 in the air. I've been hacking away for 10 days -- no fever, but suffering all the other symptoms -- and earlier this week, my husband succumbed. So what to do with three kids, two spouses, eight grandkids and my mother expecting heaping helpings of wild rice stuffing and a golden bird on the table? I've consulted doctors, friends, and family, and none of the options looks great.
We could postpone the dinner -- though the fresh turkey will probably go bad -- and gather sometime over the weekend. But with such a large family and so many children, the odds that everyone will be fit and hardy on any given Sunday this time of year are pretty slim. And the thought of everyone staying home and eating frozen turkey TV dinners is too sad to contemplate. It will end up being the one Thanksgiving everyone remembers and for all the wrong reasons.
The thing that irritates me most is that I had my flu shots, seasonal and swine, though perhaps not soon enough, thanks to government inefficiency and rationing. One set of grandkids have had theirs as well, and the others have all had H1N1, which turned out not to be nearly as bad as everyone expected. So if I go ahead with the meal, I'm not likely risking family calamity, just a few days of misery if my illness turns out to be something both new and still contagious. And my doctors can't reassure me on either count.
I could put out surgical masks alongside the napkins for everyone's use. But unless I can figure out a way to puree turkey and let everyone sip it through a straw, that doesn't seem very practical. But I can certainly wear a mask while cooking, and gloves as well.
I'll have to forego the tasting part of preparation, which means the gravy is guaranteed to be too salty or too bland but I won't notice since my taste buds still haven't come back even as I've recovered from the worst of my illness.
I might just use a mix, which would solve the saltiness factor, if there are any left on the grocery shelves. I learned years ago that if you live in a rural area, as I do, and don't buy everything you need for holiday cooking weeks in advance, you're out of luck. I'm sure there are cupboards all over Loudoun County bursting with gravy mixes, bread crumbs, fresh cranberries, and pumpkin filling, hoarded by those who worry there will be a run on ingredients Thanksgiving week.
The challenge will be to set the table early enough that any stray germs will have died out before everyone takes their seat without inviting dust to collect on the finery. Or we could just go with paper and plastic, which seems sort of tacky but might be safer. I'll have plenty of hand sanitizer available -- we can pass it with the yams and mashed potatoes -- and we'll isolate anyone who looks peaked to their own little island in the corner.
Maybe we'll invoke a rule of silence so that no one lets out any germs if they get too exuberant in conversation. And of course we can insist that all the adults consume a full glass of wine with every helping, as a purely hygienic precaution.
There won't be much kissing and hugging this year, but then, the Puritans probably didn't do much of that on the first Thanksgiving anyway.
Then again, we could just throw caution to the wind and celebrate the way we always do with too much food and lots of laughs and memory-sharing. A few sniffles and aches are a small price to pay for a good meal and the family gathered 'round the table to give thanks for all the blessings of the year.