Every year American families sit at dinner tables laden with nostalgic dishes and inaugurate the holiday meal by giving thanks. Over pours of red wine, each participant takes their turn to tell the crowd what they, uniquely, are grateful for.

Perhaps some families are calm during this time. Maybe others are lovingly sentimental. Not mine. No no, Thanksgiving is not a community building event in the Isern household!  It’s a competition of wits.

As we prepare pilgrim inspired concoctions, we are simultaneously racking our brains for what we’ll say at the feast that’s better than what everyone else will say. We hunt for statements that are wise, heartfelt, and chock full of wit; the right alchemy of words that will make everyone break into hearty guffaws and move their hands to cross over the heart. The core objective?  Envy. We want everyone else to desperately wish that they had thought of such a clever line themselves.

Whoever wins the Grateful Competition receives nods of admiration for the entire year, second only to whoever had won the annual cribbage competition. I tried to explain the grateful ritual to the new guests before they arrived.

“Hey, while we all may love that root vegetable gratin, it won’t really matter if you don’t say something witty. You may want to start preparing now.”

I gave them a list of blacklisted topics that would certainly cause indigestion.

“Please don’t say ‘love’, the fact we ‘are all together’, are ‘healthy’, or that ‘no one is dead’, “ I said. “Also no quotes. Unless they are from Jack Handy.

“What is this, a reality TV show?” they asked, scared of judgement

Our guests quickly realized they weren’t just coming over for a dinner, they were coming over to a battle. And it was. In my family, we would rather have our left arm cut off by a rusty Exacto knife than be ridiculed for a sappy statement. Thanksgiving meal preparation was our training ground.

“So what are you going to be grateful for this year?” I asked my dad as he sharpened knives.

“Well, you’ll have to wait and see,” he said with a smirk in his eye. “Probably something better than what you are.”

My mother perked up from across the kitchen while manhandling a Turkey, “Well, mine is backed by research,” she commented. Mom, a biochemist, had been doing lots of experiments around the gut microbiome. Man, winning this year’s Grateful Competition is going to be tough unless I could solve Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

My aunt’s dog licked up spare stuffing bits from the floor. I’m just thankful his microbiome doesn’t make him fart like our last dog,” said my uncle.

Another family member* sat in the corner, sifting through social media, looking for past threads and tweets that she could call upon as inspiration.

I decided to use my lifeline and dial my brother to see if he had any clues for what would top all the past years’ gratitude proclamations.

“Look, you’re on your own,” he said. “I can’t always bail you out with my profound intellect.”

So on Thanksgiving eve, I mulled through gratitude ideas, looking for a shard of brilliance.


  1. We are made of regenerative material

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (or makes us drink strong liquor). In the past six months, I managed to recover from a torn ankle, a breakup, a car crash, a DMV visit and TWO trips to IKEA without suffering noticeable PTSD. My therapist may disagree with this statement, but since he’s not coming to dinner, it stands as fact.

  1. It’s okay to get a little fat while you regenerate.

Due to events mentioned above I managed to lose 10 pounds within 2 months.  It was counter to my nature. Granny always said it was better to be fat and sassy than mean and skinny. Plus one of my first boyfriends told that a man needed a woman he could grab onto. So I decided to eat with abandon just in time for the holidays and regained 10 pounds within one month. And all by understanding my microbiome.

  1. No state is permanent.

I won’t stay fat, just like I won’t stay skinny.  As stated on one of my Esalen new age meditation retreats, the only thing permanent is impermanence. The high rents in SF will soon settle. And the drought shows signs of ending. No, I don’t mean the California drought. No, no not THAT kind of draught either. I mean the Uber draught. We finally have enough cars that arrive within 1 minute. Well, if you can glean them in their ‘impermanent ‘non surge pricing’ state.

Ok, I probably have some more work to do on gratitude. Actually if I think about it—what I am really grateful for is an awesome, ridiculous family that allows me to post blogs making fun of our rituals without suing me for slander. Which brings me to another ritual. After gratitude is spread and grace is given, we always sit back with full bellies as my dad performs his annual concluding line.

“Well, as my grandmother always used to say, I wonder what the poor folk are eating tonight?”

We’ll groan on cue, embarrassed that we had once again resurrected the old family heirloom quote from our high livin’ great grandmother.  However, dad’s awkward statement is meant as a peace offering; it helps relieve pressure for everyone that had worried about what they had said previously. No one can say something worse than that.

In conclusion, I’m grateful for our weirdness.  I’m grateful for all the quirky idiosyncratic rituals that make a family a family. I’m grateful for the rants, for the competition, for the food, and ultimately for the love, cleverly disguised underneath endless groaning, guffawing, and naturally, gloating.

*mentioned ‘family member’ asked for name to be removed so she wouldn’t sue me for slander.

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