Sativa Peterson's Les Halles Thanksgiving
This year we're giving thanks to some of our favorite writers for sharing tales of Thanksgiving woes -- and joys. Today Sativa Peterson's got the story of a truly unforgettable holiday.
Oh Thanksgiving, full of thanks and food -- a holiday for families to come together around a meal. Thanksgiving you will always be special to me, not least of all because my daughter was born at Thanksgiving time.
It was November and I was two weeks past my due date. Two weeks! Keep in mind that I was so huge and uncomfortable that I had taken to wearing the same pair of black stretchy pants and a turtleneck borrowed from Liam, my baby daddy, every day. I was uncomfortable, weepy, and on the verge of completely losing my shit.
My mother had flown in from Arizona and kept talking about how she needed to SEE HER BABY!!! As if I was just a vessel, an uncooperative vessel, keeping her from the baby by design.
Finally, we head to the hospital. Things are not going well, I have been in labor for something close to 24 hours. My mother is a total emotional wreck. I'm not progressing; not responding to labor enhancing drugs.
To make things worse my mom keeps calling Liam by my ex-husband's name. Not once, mind you, but three separate times! Horror of horrors.
"MOM - you have to stop doing that!"
Believe me when I tell you that the last thing you want to hear when you are in your 20th hour of labor is the name of your ex-husband. But she is so nervous she seemingly can't help it.
At last, by c-section, my daughter is delivered. We are all happy, exhausted, and in just a handful of minutes it will be Thanksgiving and my daughter's first full day in this crazy world.
But what to eat for the big meal? I'd given birth in a New York City hospital, which at the time was located in a section of town that was a bit of a culinary wasteland, dotted mostly with Korean delis, bodegas, and fast food. The kind of delis I'm talking about are the small, storefront groceries dominated by a stainless steel salad bar set-up right in the middle. Underneath fluorescent lights there is always a variation of the same dishes: Caesar salad that looks too dressed, some rice-ball looking things, a melon salad with grapes, honeydew and strawberries. The hot side with sautéed spinach and some coagulated looking oyster-sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, a tray of some deep-fried chicken in a gelatinous corn-syrup sauce, a pan of meatballs. All the scents from the various steam trays mixing over several hours into a kind of perma-stink.
This, my friends, is "center smell." Or at least that is what I always called it. Center smell is a ubiquitous part of New York City, but it is not what I want to eat for Thanksgiving dinner, the afternoon after giving birth, IF the delis are even open on this national holiday. But that's probably the best we can hope for, aside from the hospital cafeteria.
But then Liam remembers -- of course! Les Halles! Yes, Les Halles, the French brasserie on Park Avenue where Anthony Bourdain was famously the chef! It was just blocks away. He dashes off on foot, coming back to the hospital room with take-out boxes of golden potato frites, and turkey roulade stuffed with chestnuts, and pecan pie. Why, they even poured a congratulatory glass of wine for the new father.
This is going to be perfect. We pull that bed-tray-on-wheels thingy over and he starts unpacking the boxes. My mother, though more relaxed now that "her baby" is here, is for some god-only-knows what reason, disapproving and so refuses to eat any of the food.
I, on the other hand, having only had ice-chips and Percocet for the last day-and-a-half feel festive and can't wait. Our first Thanksgiving as a new little family! The baby is beautiful and perfect and tucked into the crook of my arm. We dig in. Turkey, frites, oh my!
And then, just a few short minutes later, of course, I throw it all back up.
My mother sits beside the bed with her arms crossed, she is wearing a look on her face that says, "I told you so."