Ryan Lee: House of yessss: Building traditions with chosen family

There’s such a harsh judgment in the peal from a Thanksgiving smoke alarm. The already unnerving siren assaults a cook’s dignity on the most hallowed day in American dining, the meal on which legacies are built in the kitchen.

It warns of burnt pie crust and dry tur- key breast. In the silence between humiliating beeps, neighbors can be heard thanking God that they’re not eating in that household tonight.

I’ll have to remember to take the batteries out this year.

It’s a slanderous overreaction by the alarm, I assure you, caused by an oversight while cooking in my former roommate’s newish condo. There ought to be a holiday mode on smoke alarms, where a droidish voice nudges you with, “Think it’s ‘bout time we turn on that hood fan, Cap’n’?”

Instead, it’s become a mortifying tradition for me to scurry for a broom to beat a pocket of air near the alarm’s sensor, which apparently is uber-sensitive to savory, delicious aromas.

The blaring alarm is a throwback to my clownish early attempts to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t go home for the holiday my freshman year in college and wound up buying a turkey, some spices, corn meal, Kraft mac-n-cheese and canned cranberry sauce to try to prepare a meal in my campus apartment. Any sadness I may have felt spending the holiday alone was overcome by my gratitude for there being no witnesses to the culinary abomination I plated just after midnight.

I had three guests the next year, two high school friends from Chicago, and a guy I introduced to them as one of my best friends at Auburn. Since no one died or sought refuge at Waffle House, I considered the dinner a success. However, the holiday marked the start of an estrangement from one of those high school friends after I explained to him that my Auburn buddy was not only my friend, but also someone with whom I was in love.

By the time I settled in Atlanta, I had become an expert Googler of turkey and dressing recipes, and could recreate them authentically enough to fool folks into believing they had been passed down through generations of family.

This year marks the 10th holiday since my onetime roommate and I started spending Thanksgiving together. One of our earliest dinners was crashed by a couple of stoner neighbors with a hyperactive case of the munchies, and ever since our little gathering has been dubbed, “Hosea Feed the High.”

Our celebration is little more offbeat than the typical family gathering, but now that it is a decade old, it is rich with tradition. There is always Wednesday night prep, and Thursday morning football; but where- as some families’ ritual is to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “The Polar Express,” our holiday classics include “The Wiz,” “Addams Family Values” and “The House of Yes.”

The spirited company we have for dinner is always as delicious as the food, although it’s a bit sobering to think about some of the faces that have come and gone. Best friends move to different cities for new jobs or to return home to family, former lovers fade away while new partners settle in.

And sometimes loved ones die, as we will be reminded this year by the absence of our dear friend Mike Ritter. One of my last memories of Mike is last Thanksgiving when he was eating my family’s legendary frozen maple mousse dessert (that I stole from the internet), each swallow accompanied by indulgent moans and orgasmic facial expressions.

Mike’s absence makes me cherish my friendships and traditions all the more.

I was recently texting my high school friend with whom I have since reconciled, and reminded him of that Thanksgiving in Auburn 15 years ago.

“Damn, it’s been a long time,” he replied. “We’ve come a long way.”

“We have,” I wrote back, “and I’m very thankful.”

Ryan Lee is an Atlanta writer.