It’s smoked bird this year. Yeah!
This year, as last, we will pack up the car with pies and sundries and head east to Cazenovia to feast on smoked turkey, which, waxing poetic, is the most succulent poultry in the universe. It will be accompanied by mashed potatoes, biscuits, whole cranberry sauce and assorted vegetables made from new and delicious recipes. I know this because I just got off the phone with my daughter, who is hosting the event. She is in charge of the “sides,” which, if our conversation holds true, will be a tour de force of their own.
Jack, my son-in-law, is the smoke-master. He will put the final touches on the bird, which he will have brined the day before. There will be a good selection of music playing through his laptop computer as we sample some healthy hors d’oeurves and wine. The healthy part is a relatively new phenomenon associated with my child’s discovery of the same kind of stuff she made fun of as a teenager. The wheel turns. Can you see me smiling?
And, speaking of wheels turning, I am remembering other Thanksgivings, some of childhood where the menu was turkey with Pepperidge Farm stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, candied yams, which was my mother’s signature dish, sliced jellied cranberry sauce, rolls and home-made mincemeat pie. My grandmother would have made the mincemeat with the green tomatoes left at the end of the summer. We might have, if they were on sale, a Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie. My father loved Mrs. Smith’s pies but my mother would not buy a pie, a shameful thing, apparently, unless it was on sale.
As the years went by and we followed our fortunes to other climes and my mother moved to Florida, we gathered at my sister’s house in Carmel, which was sort of centrally located for most of the family, for the holiday. It wasn’t really centrally located for us, but since the rest of the family thinks of Marcellus as being near the Rocky Mountains, we were the ones to travel. This was the epoch of weird food, the nation having discovered the combination of canned yams and marshmallows as well as the famous green bean-mushroom soup casserole. We still had the jellied cranberry sauce and the candied yams to connect us to past holidays. We would call our mother on Thanksgiving, pretending to have forgotten how to make the yams, so that she could, once again, share the recipe. My sister also believed in homemade desserts and we feasted on several pies, some with fillings made of packaged faux whipped cream and more marshmallows.
With other changes, we were left with Thanksgiving at our house from time to time. The “we” being my spouse and our children. I subscribed to the cloning of my childhood Thanksgiving meal with the racy addition of creamed tiny onions, which I believed made me a gourmet cook. I served this simple meal with my own variation of odd dessert pies that I seemed drawn to copy from women’s magazines that told me Thanksgiving demanded creativity. I think that there is at least one word that describes those pies and it isn’t creativity. You cook and learn.
As years went by I added or subtracted from the meal depending on the number at the table. One year, when there were only three of us, I cooked a duck breast stuffed with prunes. It wasn’t the same.
There were times when the several parts of our family did not share a Thanksgiving table. Scattered among friends and families connected by marriage, our children had other places to be. So, what did we do? I can tell you, the memory being so strong, that it was a tossup between football on TV or a movie at one of the movie plexes. Of course, I could cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal, and I did consider that for about two minutes, but I sat down and that thought faded into the place where things like make-your-own shoes and do-it-yourself roofing lie. I remember that I made sandwiches out of deli turkey, cranberry sauce and stove top stuffing. Mrs. Smith came through with one of her smaller pumpkin pies.
Eighteen years ago, my daughter offered to take the Thanksgiving scepter from my weakened hands because I was a bit bedraggled after my last chemo treatment. There were five minutes of recrimination on my part. What did this all mean? What did this say about me and my role on earth? I decided that I loved the idea and the meal she served was fabulous. This is a child who, mind you, when she left for college, was astounded to find out that you could make cake frosting from scratch. Things change. I did bring dessert, my favorite part of the meal anyway.
No matter what we cook, no matter what we eat, no matter how many gather, this day that we celebrate with the turkey and fixings is really a celebration of family, the lovely thought that there are people in this world, some kin, some not, who consider us so tenderly that we feel comfortable and safe in each other’s presence. We are, no matter where that is, home, a place of warmth and security …even when the food gets strange…it is all for the “us,” the quintessential unit of family. Even apart we can be together, linked by memories and Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie.