Thanksgiving Day sat at the top of my mom’s hierarchy of holidays. Her Southern cooking abilities were legendary, and on Thanksgiving, she pulled out all the stops. She’d make turkey with stuffing and giblet gravy, oyster casserole, macaroni and cheese, whipped potatoes, greens, green beans she’d canned in the summer, homemade rolls, and other sundry dishes with a German chocolate pound cake and a cheesecake for dessert. The only item NOT homemade was the can of cranberry dressing.
Now you might be thinking, that sounds delicious. Or maybe you’re thinking about your favorite traditional thanksgiving fixings from your childhood. Perhaps your thoughts have turned to what you’re preparing or eating next week. Our holiday traditions generally revolved around food – so much so that for years after my mom’s death, I refused to cook a traditional thanksgiving dinner.
I’d been scarred by years of spending hours and hours in the kitchen with mom doing whatever she asked, for however long it took: chopping carrots, onions and celery for a roux; peeling and dicing potatoes; polishing silver; ironing tablecloths, and so on, and so on. Mom wasn’t in the kitchen for hours, but days. And she expected me to be in there with her.
Guess what? I didn’t want to be in the kitchen. I didn’t want to watch her make giblet gravy. I didn’t want to watch her stuff the turkey. I wanted to be anywhere doing anything expect preparing for Thanksgiving.
I remember not quite getting the point of that giant meal. Why would Mom want to spend hours and hours planning and preparing all that food? My brothers and I didn’t like half of what she fixed, and they always giggled during grace and got us all in trouble. We stuffed ourselves into a food coma that came with a huge side of dishes that had to be hand washed. I didn’t give thanks for any of that at the time.
Then came the year we had to celebrate our first Thanksgiving without her. We got turkey dinners from Kroger and Whole Foods. Slowly, I began to prepare side dishes to go with the prepared turkey. Then, we began to plan and prepare non-traditional Thanksgiving dinners, where everyone, including the girls, chose at least one item for our meal. Imagine pot roast or salmon instead of turkey. We loved it, and I felt more at peace with the day.
To my surprise, in the last couple of years, I’ve begun to cook a more traditional meal. Growing with my girls helps me understand the joy in creating something extremely special for those you love. I do some things differently than my mom, such as give my girls more input into the menu, prepare far fewer dishes, and start cooking after my husband and I do a 10K.
But Mom’s legacy lives on, especially on Thanksgiving Day. My spiritual practices of prayer and mediation help me draw on Mom’s instructions on everything from preparing the roux to decorating the table. Reading the book of Exodus with my colleagues shows me that God really cares about beautiful things. So did my mom. Her Thanksgiving traditions came from love, I know that now. Every dish she prepared, she prepared with love, as her mother taught her. I’m glad I didn’t miss the lesson.
How do you show love on Thanksgiving Day?
How does your family show thanks to and for each other?