It has been almost 20 years since my Thanksgiving dinner was lovingly prepared and then handed to me by a friendly employee at a McDonald’s drive-through, and I still fondly recall that memorable al fresco dining experience (the car window was open) on the way to work.

Also still fresh in my mind was the horror of friends who, when told of my miserly repast, felt pangs of guilt sharp enough to carve a turkey. Invitations were issued not just for that evening’s meal but for weeks thereafter, as my plight apparently caused indigestion even for those whose table was filled with holiday favorites.

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I haven’t had much of a problem finding Thanksgiving meals since then – marriage probably has increased my odds, and there are enough other family members in the vicinity that we aren’t likely to survive another Thanksgiving without stuffing.

Typically, my wife Sally’s family gathers for a holiday retreat at a hotel or lodge; the gathering usually includes a significant amount of jockeying for football-watching sofa positions in front of the lobby television, endless forays to the soft drink machines to quench pint-sized thirsts, and a big dinner that involves various family members gorging themselves on plate after plate and then complaining vigorously about how they’ve eaten too much and will never make that mistake again.

Until the next year, or even Christmas, I suppose.

Last year, Sally’s family passed on its annual get-together, and we wound up at home, by ourselves (in as much as you can be by yourself with two kids), and excited about starting a tradition of our own.

We eagerly solicited Thanksgiving recipes from everyone we knew, purchased bag after bag of raw materials from our neighborhood Minyard’s, and carefully set out the stuff on just about every flat space we had in our kitchen. (It was at this exact moment that we decided our kitchen simply was too small, and we needed to remodel. But that’s another column for another day.)

Anyway, we worked for hours and hours removing innards from a giant turkey, mixing up a killer batch of stuffing to replace the innards, slicing and dicing any colorful vegetable we could get our hands on, and pureeing onions and garlic (I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to liquefy those two), all the while alternating between the various sporting events and cooking shows on television.

Finally, we stuffed the turkey into one of those “cooking bags” after carefully piercing the bird with what looked like a giant rectal thermometer (sympathetically donated by an Advocate staff member).

Hours later – after countless anxious glances at the bird, the timer, the clock, the thermometer and back to the bird again – the feast was ready: Turkey, stuffing, vegetables, rice, even pie.

My wife pulled out china plates I hadn’t seen since our wedding and with a table-for-four placesetting complete with candles, we pulled the children away from their video games for the big feast. (Just a note for disapproving parents: We only allow our children to play video games before breakfast, after breakfast, right before or after lunch, after school, before bedtime and on weekends – that’s all, I swear.)

Excitedly racing down the stairs to behold Thanksgiving in all of its magnificence, one of the boys offered this plaintive benediction to the extravaganza:

“Where are the hot dogs?”