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It’s Thanksgiving time again. I shudder to think how many hapless gobblers have been sacrificed for me in my lifetime. They would comprise the proverbial truckload plus.
Several of the past All American holidays were flat. There were years when half the family was off, around the World, fighting fierce battles. As I recall, we, left at home, decided to forego the big fuss. Later, when most had returned safely, should have been a big, happy family occasion but no one could bear the thought of the empty place where the one who died at Iwo Jima should have been sitting. It took many years and the need to make a good showing for the next generation to get over the feelings.
If you have a family of hearty eaters, the day can be fun. There’s a lot of preparation involved in the traditional feast. Sadly, everyone in our family (except for one) was a moderate eater. I was the exception. It didn’t help that all my favorite foods were part of the menu.
To this day, it holds true. Not only are my four kids still extremely moderate eaters, their kids are worse. There’s no such scene as Grandma coming to the heavily laden table carrying a turkey triumph to place before a table load of eager eaters. I used to fake it when my four were small.
My husband had grown up in a family where social customs were strictly observed. Thanksgiving was a formal affair. There were courses – nothing like a table covered in multi-dishes. Everything, from soup to nuts, was served in proper order with sorbet in between for palate cleansing. This is a small dish of sherbet served midway between the fish and the turkey.
Four years of college, seven years in Alaska, and four years in the Army saved (as he put it) him from what he regarded as a boring ritual. The meal ended with his father reading from his favorite poet, Robert Burns in the original Celtic.
We had to suffer this kind of ritualistic face stuffing, just once, during our years of marriage during a miserable visit with his parents. The only hangover habit Roger couldn’t shake was dressing for Thanksgiving dinner. This meant a tie for him (as a young man he had to wear a tuxedo), and nice dress-up clothes for me and the four children. The kids didn’t mind – it was facing the food that bothered them.
As years went by, I managed to cut down the size of the menus. Mashed potatoes survived because I loved them so. A salad was substituted for the more traditional peas, carrots, and string beans. The kids, being typical Californians, would always eat a salad. I insisted on creamed white onions for their father and me, and a small dish of sweet potatoes baked with marshmallow topping. Needless to say, these were spurned by the young.
Eventually, even the turkey changed. I saw no need to bake a big whole bird when no one, except Father, ate dark meat. It made more sense to me, to cook just a breast of white meat.
All the dishes that were traditional at my mother’s table became just memories for me. Gone was her wonderful New England stuffing, mashed turnips, a tureen of gravy, two kinds of cranberry sauce, jellied and whole, vegetables of all kinds, and fat yeast rolls glistening with butter.
I couldn’t even look forward to pumpkin pie smothered in ice cream, or the traditional champagne. My father always provided a floorshow uncorking the bottles.
I did set the table with my antique china, crystal, and silver, even if the fare didn’t match. Actually, my kids were years ahead of their time, avoiding all the carbohydrates, fats, and sugars that plague modern man. Not one of them has ever been one pound overweight and their father remained slim and trim all his life. I’ve had a fight, off and on, with weight, and still would knock over just about anyone to get to the mashed potatoes.
The dinner is no longer my concern, than Heavens. I do like taking everyone out to eat, but this year, Adele and Katie have decided to have an old fashioned meal and to heck with carb-counting for just on special time.
I’ll enjoy it, despite a sad kind of memory as I think of all the young men and women fighting so far away from their homes and loved ones. Grace can only be a prayer for them and their safety.
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