Gratitude without the gravy
Greetings Dear Ones,
The season in my life of feasting with family members and their beloveds, of table decorating with pine cone turkeys and turkey handprint placemats my daughters made at school, of hosting my husband’s local family, and my further afield parents and grandparents, our Boston Market feast when my husband worked at Cisco, and our post-pie Win, Lose, or Draw and Apples to Apples games of “Real Warners” versus “Fake Warners”, is a season no longer present — and hasn’t been in the dozen years my husband and I have lived in Washington, first due to distance and later, sadly, death. And yet, rather than wish for what was, I am entering this time of Thanks-giving donning my gratitude glasses, reveling in memory that even includes the dishes I washed: especially the red plastic Solo cups with names I’d written in Sharpie, filled with iced tea and root beer, diet Pepsi and apple cider, reused on occasion after occasion, year after year, until they cracked and I “monogrammed” another cup. What a treasure it is to belong to each other, to know we are welcome, even expected.
I’m grateful to have this connection with each of you, to share words and images that matter to me, to touch your lives in some small way. To be gifted by your reception of my emails, and to receive communiques from you in response.
I won’t be showing up at your house with a pie or a red cup next Thursday, so I hope you enjoy these gifts instead: a Thanksgiving poem and a remembrance written 15 years ago about the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted.
May they satisfy!
The soil thanks abundant rain
the leaves bow to the autumn wind
the bulbs burst open in spring gratitude
the squirrels thank the acorns they unearth
the summer salutes the sunlit day
the cat naps gratefully at the window pane
the dog adores the human companion
the thrum of appreciation runs rampant
through the threads of creation
careless in its extravagance
spilling from our open palms
the gathered harvest lifted high in praise
the outpowering of abundance
overflowing all boundaries
until thanksgiving floods
every nook and cranny of existence
Thanksgiving in a Box
The November we began remodeling our kitchen, I wasn’t sure how I was going to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. The honor and responsibility had recently come my way, once my grandparents decided it was easier for the two of them to drive eight hours to be with us, than for my mother and stepfather, and my husband, me and our two children, ages five and two, to make our separate treks to Los Angeles.
The week before the feast day, I leafed through the adverts in the mail and found in the Safeway circular, a ready-made Thanksgiving dinner. I signed up at the deli counter and picked up my order the day before Thanksgiving. At home, in the company of my parents and grandparents, I opened the large cardboard box to reveal our dinner in a box.
1 shrink-wrapped defrosted, uncooked turkey
1 foil roasting pan
1 box Safeway brand frozen Bread Dressing
1 box Safeway brand frozen mashed potatoes
1 tub refrigerated Ocean Spray cranberry sauce
1 tub refrigerated turkey gravy
1 dozen fresh dinner rolls from the Safeway Bakery
1 boxed Entenmann’s pumpkin pie with a red ribbon printed on the packaging
There was nothing technically wrong with this dinner, and if the advertisement had shown the components fully prepared and steaming in china serving dishes, well that wasn’t uncommon. It was simply that until that moment, I hadn’t fully appreciated the heroic efforts my grandmother had undertaken each Thanksgiving and Christmas.
She constructed elaborate centerpieces and made decorations for each plate setting (one for each dinner guest and dozens more of that year’s craft to sell at her church’s holiday bazaar). Her home resembled Santa’s workshops for weeks before the feasts, as she and my grandfather ran their jigsaws, painted, and glued. She put every leaf in her dining room table until it nearly filled the room to accommodate ten of us and a myriad of China serving dishes. She pressed her best tablecloth and set out the fancy china and crystal goblets for our sparkling apple cider.
Her food was fabulous too. The hors d'oeuvres tray was plentiful and healthy: carrot and celery sticks, crackers and dip, and black olives that my sister and I would stick on our fingers as children. Her menu consisted of turkey, of course, and a stuffing that contained onion, celery, and giblets as well as breadcrumbs and broth. The potatoes were russets, mashed with milk and butter. The gravy was whisked thick from basting broth with giblets and cornstarch with no trace of lumps. There were green beans topped with Durkee onions. The cranberries were whole and mixed with chopped orange peel and nuts to make chutney. She baked pies, pumpkin, and apple with a flaky crust we raved about, and served them with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.
My grandmother, whose energy was a constant source of amazement, would stay up nearly all night before the feast days, perfecting everything. On the big days, running on two, maybe three hours of sleep, she would dress up, tie an apron around her waist, and zip around her kitchen, attending to every detail, then launch into the role of gracious hostess as her company began arriving.
One year her turkey wore a vest, collar, cuffs, and spats of perfectly crafted dough shaped into clothing and made more realistic with the application of food coloring and an egg wash. She took a photo of that turkey in the kitchen, and on the table. She always took a photo of the fully decorated table, although I’m not sure if she snapped pictures of her guests.
There was no chance my Thanksgiving in a box could compare to the care and craftsmanship evidenced in my grandmother’s kitchen. My kitchen had temporary plywood countertops and all the overhead cabinets had been ripped out so we could knock out the upper half of the wall, making a large pass through into a bedroom that would become a dining room. We ate in a nook just off the kitchen. Our table sat eight and was much too large for the space. One long side was shoved against a wall so we could squeeze past it into the kitchen proper. Our Thanksgiving meal of 1993 would be served directly from foil, boxes, and plastic containers onto paper plates, and eight of us would crowd around three sides of a table covered with a red and white checked plastic-coated cloth.
Instead of despairing, we laughed. My grandmother––given a reprieve from her usual time-consuming preparations––laughed first and longest of all. We were all together, great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and children, and we would celebrate. It was Thanksgiving, and just as tradition dictated, my grandmother artfully arranged the components of our dinner in their colorful wrappings atop my dining room table. Then she fished her Kodak Instamatic camera from her purse and photographed our feast.