Since we started our life together, Husband and I have been trying to merge our culinary traditions. I come from a family that observed all the rituals and took pride in painstakingly adhering to the smallest details in organizing, preparing, and executing any holiday dish. Husband’s memories are mostly tied to his grandfather, a stern and strict southern Baptist who tended to the garden and wielded the ladle while they were growing up. While the women in my family fretted about every morsel of food, stretching their imagination to match the skill and the occasion of the celebration, Husband’s family ate in the spirit of the enlightened seventies. Once his grandfather passed, his mother embraced all the modern conveniences of the grocery store, and laid new holiday traditions for her two children.
I was indifferent when it came to Thanksgiving, as it is a holiday we do not celebrate in Europe and it did not touch me in any emotional or nostalgic way. The first year I dutifully made the turkey and all the trimmings following Husband’s wishes: green beans for the casserole were previously frozen and rounded off with canned cream of mushroom soup and crispy canned onions; sweet potatoes were served with marshmallows on top; cranberry sauce came from the can, still bearing the ridges on its smooth sides; the rolls were from the supermarket, most of the time just warmed over; one of the desserts was always banana pudding with ‘Nilla wafers and Jello instant pudding; but the turkey was real, somewhat dry, and always ready before noon; mashed potatoes were from scratch, the stuffing was made with corn bread, rolls, celery, onions, and turkey stock, and the giblet gravy was hearty and delicious, finished with turkey stock, and loaded with flavorful chopped giblets and hard boiled eggs.
For Husband, this was a path to his childhood, this semi-homemade Sandra Lee concoction of a meal. No matter how much I rolled my eyes, he reached for the familiar tastes and textures of processed food to keep the allusive wisps of comfort and family warmth from flying away, and I could not deny him these tiny anchors to the past.
But throughout the years, I slowly started changing the tradition, dish by dish, wanting our girls to have different ties to the holiday. I retired the green bean casserole and introduced roasted autumn vegetables; my sweet potatoes stayed true to his southern roots, laced with bourbon and crunchy with buttered pecans on top; we often have soup for an appetizer, desserts are varied and prepared according to wishes and whims, but always featuring either a pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, or a pecan pie; I fought and won him over with my home-made cranberry sauce, even though the nasty canned stuff is still a must on our holiday table, as College Kritter cannot imagine Thanksgiving without it; mashed potatoes come and go, and the dressing is a variable, so much that I cannot remember from year to year what I made; often, prompted by Husband’s dislike of every dry bland centerpiece, I don’t even serve turkey, opting for seafood, duck, or a pork roast; but I still make the giblet gravy, as it became a traditional staple, one constant that epitomizes this holiday for me.
This year the Beasties want to be fully engaged in the kitchen. College Kritter arrives later today and I know that she will volunteer to tackle a dish or two. Husband’s Vietnamese colleague from work might be joining us, and I am pleasantly excited in anticipation of our holiday meal. This year Father will be missing from the table, having to stay in Serbia and take care of Mother and I will miss his meddlesome presence in the kitchen and obsessive adherence to many useless details. The Girls and I are mostly finished with our Thanksgiving menu and Husband is unanimously elected to face the angry crowds at the grocery stores (I will have to placate him with a tumbler or two of bourbon after he returns).
I delivered College Kritter on Thanksgiving in 1991, and her yearly pilgrimages home for her birthday are a part of our family holiday traditions. When we finally sit at the table, we say thanks. This year, besides my usual gratitude, I am thankful for the time I spent with Mother in Serbia, for each piece of advice, solicited or not, for every nudge and prompt, for her encouragement and inspiration, for her bravery and will to fight, for every moment she spent reading my essays since I learned to write and long hours of commenting on books and movies, for teaching me that a smile is my best weapon and instilling kindness in my heart, for her quick wit and weird sense of humor, for her ability to light up any room with her laughter, for hundreds of beautiful sweaters she knitted for me and the girls, weaving her love and adoration in every little loop. I wish she could be here with us.
None of the posts that I am going to link to mention Thanksgiving, even though I learned to love this holiday and all the dishes appeared at the table throughout the years.Â I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, full of already stable family traditions and new, emerging ones, filled with smiles, gratitude, and kindness. And lots of wine!