Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve

Over the weekend, in a keep-on-knitting couch-potato stupor, I watched a hostess-y program on Channel 20, (the lesser of the two Chicago-area PBS stations). This woman and her husband were rehabbing a giant early 1900s vacation house in the mountains and were planning to host Thanksgiving dinner there for their children and grandchildren. It had the usual rehabbing quandaries of matching moldings and heating the place mixed with recipes and table decorations. This skinny older woman walked through everything in her granny-jeans and J. Jill t-shirts. choosing lighting, then chopping and mixing and pouring stuff into an oven dish while ad-libbing about how all these good flavors were making memories.

She irritated me. Partly it was the pitch and flatness of her voice. (You want to be my friend, cultivate some resonance in your speaking voice.) But more than that, I was shaking my head at how she reduced family and memories and Thanksgiving to just the veneer of the whole thing--the food on the table, the "sense of bounty" evoked by tucking oranges and lemons and butternut squash into the greenery winding down the middle of her dining table. And how pumpkin swirl cheesecake would--I dunno--make everyone feel fulfilled, rather than just plain full.

I've been hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house for fifteen years. It is a day full of memories. Some of them are even memories of flavors--like the gravy from a couple years ago that had a cup or so of red wine in it. I think it was merlot. I'm having a glass right now--opened the bottle tonight so it will be ready when I need it tomorrow. The chardonnay last year did not produce the same results.

My Thanksgiving memories are mostly made of people, the continuing characters of family in my life, and of eras, what we've all lived through together. There were years when the kids were excited to help me set the table. (Alas, no more.) There were crazy years with Lon, and before that, not-so-crazy years. There were the years when Eliza and Kurt were small and I did as much cooking as possible already on Wednesday, because I just never knew what was going to happen at the last minute. Now my children and the nieces and nephews are grown up, or something close to that, and we listen carefully to what they have to say over dinner, eager to know that they are people of good judgment, happy, thoughtful, and useful in the world.

Of course, you couldn't put all that shared history in a one-hour television program, not even on PBS. And you can't create your own version of a life to be thankful for based on directions from someone else. You've got to live your life in order to be grateful for it. You've got to trust God and the people walking alongside you. Trust the wine to flavor the gravy, one way or the other.

There's a turkey basket sitting in the middle of my dining room table, a close cousin to the stupid chicken collection on my kitchen windowsill. It's empty--I should fill it with something, but I don't know what. It's a goofy thing, but I enjoy it, just like the little "jug of pilgrim air" sitting uncorked on the sideboard--something that came from my grandmother's house.

I would rather have these familiar things than a table fit for photography.


Paul Erickson said...

I agree. Humanity tends to not be perfect, at least not in the way one might expect. I'm at my best when I'm not worrying about the loss of perfection.

Happy Thanksgiving, Gwen!

Gardener Ed said...

One of my favorite memories and side dishes is a fruit stuffing served at your Grandma Henrietta's as well as the love that surrounded family celebrations.

Gwen Gotsch said...

That was good stuffing--once I got over my fear of what was in it1 You just never knew with Grandma Masch . . .