Deborah's Story Family & Friends

What If They Gave a Thanksgiving Dinner and Nobody Ate?

by Deborah Weinstein

Occasionally I reflect on wonderful memories of holiday gatherings at my grandparents: food was plentiful as was the conversation, noise, and escapades of the cousins. Love must have been present in abundance for my grandmother to tolerate the chaos, racket and clutter her dinners, which must have taken weeks to prepare, descended into within minutes of our arrival.

In our family food was love, food was joy, food was our excuse for coming together. It wasn't good fool, mind you. I secretly smile at friends who enthusiastically recreate the Eastern European cuisine so central to my childhood: overdone, stringy "meat;" stinky, soggy vegetables; untouchable items such as chopped liver and gefilte fish--whatever that was--yuch. Food--for the generation that escaped poverty, pogroms and deprivation--was tangible, undeniable proof that their children would enjoy a better life. Eating was nothing to be ashamed of.

Our large gatherings stopped after my grandparents' deaths. Pieces of our family splintered into small, exclusive groups. We were left to begin our own traditions. My family was secular and non-observant and so the High Holy Days were quickly replaced by Thanksgiving and the Hallmark holidays--Mother's Day, birthdays, etc.

Since my mother doesn't cook the quality of the food actually improved quite a bit--bountiful deli platters, stuffed birds prepared by chefs, vegetables one actually wants to eat, irresistible pastries. Problem is, in my family nobody eats.

My father, who is now 75, prides himself on weighing less than 120 pounds. In the summers he struts around in shorts displaying legs made only of bones, veins and capillaries. My mother calls him "sexy." She, in turn, is determined never to outgrow her size 6 clothes.

Family meals are predictable: my father, never allowing anybody to see him eat, runs around alternately shoving food on other's plates and chiding--"Calories, calories." My mother picks at the icing on cakes--she has kept herself thin, despite her love of sweets, by eating only sweets. Growing up, our house was filled with jelly donuts with the jelly scraped out, Oreo cookies, with the creamy centers gone, and layer cakes with no icing. She couldn't resist sugar but was convinced my father would leave her if she gained weight--he may have. Anyway, a body deprived of meats and vegetables to afford oneself the luxury of sugar isn't healthy or attractive in the end.

The worst thing one could be in our house was fat. "Fat" wasn't necessarily obese--just anything soft and round. I remember visiting a family friend several years ago. Her adult son had recently died of cancer and her husband was bedridden with dementia. She, herself, had survived Hitler's death camps; her family had not. My father looked at the pictures I had of this strong, stunningly beautiful woman and commented, "She's put on a few pounds."

My brother and I have put an end to our family gatherings, except Thanksgiving--guilt keeps me suffering that one day a year. I am sickened and repelled by an attitude that glorifies emaciation and rejects life-sustaining bounties.

This year I celebrated my 50th birthday. A few simple lessons have helped me overcome my body and weight obsessions: (1) always buy clothes with elastic waistbands, (2) find doctors who don't make you get on scales, (3) exercise for health, strength, and flexibility, (4) assure your lover that a little softness around his waist is attractive on him and by extension, on you. Most importantly, raise your children in a healthy environment where family gatherings are a joy and it's o.k. to eat.