|Credit: NY Tourism|
My parents served Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m. sharp. After the parade, my brother disappeared into his room or down in the basement in his lab, my father began collecting relatives and guests we'd invited to join us, and I was expected to help my mother in the kitchen. I wasn't much help with the food when I was really young, but as I grew older, I took charge of the condiments which I arranged on a twirling "Lazy Susan" type of serving pedestal -- all kinds of pickles both sweet and dill my mother had made (watermelon, my favorite), pickled walnuts (yum!), marinated vegetables, and in the center, a small bowl of mixed nuts. My maternal grandmother brought her famous fruit salad -- a delicious concoction of mandarin oranges, grapes, maraschino cherries, coconut, marshmallows and a dressing -- she'd never reveal the recipe. My mother was traditional -- roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, a traditional stuffing, creamed onions, green bean casserole (this was the only vegetable that could change, alternating with squash or corn pudding), and dinner rolls. Depending on how many of us were at dinner, she'd make one or two pies -- always pumpkin, plus apple or mincemeat or even more special, pecan which my grandmother loved, all served with a slice of sharp cheddar. My father carved the turkey at the table with an electric carving knife.
After dinner, my father and brother helped us take the dishes back into the kitchen -- we ate in the dining room for the special occasion -- then planted their butts in chairs in front of the TV to watch football. I helped my mother and grandmother put away leftovers, load the dishwasher full, and then wash the rest of the dishes by hand. I usually dried them. Then I was free to do whatever I wanted for the rest of the day. This usually meant reading a novel in my room, but in junior high, I began going for a long walk after dinner. Sometimes, we'd postpone the cleaning up and my mother would join me, but usually I walked alone. I loved walking the quiet streets, so quiet that only pedestrians moved on them, and not many of them. Sometimes I'd see people outdoors decorating their houses with Christmas lights. After college, I'd take my parents' Fox Terrier with me.
For my mother, Thanksgiving was the biggest family holiday of the year, bigger even than Christmas, really, and she adored Christmas. She equated cooking with showing her love for us, and she was an excellent cook. As she grew older, my brother and I began to take on more of the cooking, although she insisted on doing the bird and gravy. Food was the gift of the holiday. No one ever thought that it was really about all of us together, alive, healthy, successful. As an independent adult, I usually made it home for Thanksgiving, even as the family was pulling apart, distancing emotionally as well as physically. After my father died, I stopped going home for any holiday for many reasons, all concerning family and its history.
Food. It is often the foundation to social activities, relationships, love.
In 2009, I spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. I'd had extensive surgery on my small intestine to remove obstructions the Monday before the holiday. It wasn't planned but sudden, the result of developing severe obstruction symptoms two weeks before. After the surgery, I developed a complication called ileus in which the small intestine doesn't "wake up" when it's supposed to, usually 2 days after surgery. Nothing moves in the GI tract. I could not eat or drink. I was nauseated most of the time, had no energy, and found I couldn't read without worsening the nausea. That Thanksgiving, all I wanted was for my GI tract to start working again, for the nausea to end, and to be able to eat again. After 4 days without improvement, they finally ordered a naso-gastric tube for me and that stopped the nausea. In its place came a roaring, all-consuming, primal hunger that persisted and persisted. I could not sleep because of it -- thank god for cable TV. Finally, they gave me a PICC line, which is an IV line in a deeper vein that will allow for IV feeding. I started receiving my nutrients by IV bag through the PICC line. They removed the naso-gastric tube 48 hours after insertion, once my GI tract showed signs of working again. It had been a week since the surgery. It would be another 2 days before I was eating real food, although liquids.