My baking began on Monday with four loaves of cranberry bread and a chevré cheesecake (that last only because the goat cheese needed to be used and I wanted to strain Greek yogurt for whey to use in pie crusts. On Tuesday, I roasted Delicata squash for Gary’s “pumpkin” pie. (I have made pies with canned pumpkin, fresh sugar pumpkin, acorn, and other squashes. I find actual pumpkin to be nearly tasteless. Roasted Delicata has flavor.) I also roasted and mashed sweet potatoes—which are the exact same thing as what Americans call “yams.” (Actual yams are huge vegetables, a traditional Nigerian staple, and not sweet at all.) Yesterday, I made bread-free dressing, applesauce, cranberry/chili sauce, and two kinds of twice-baked potatoes, including without dairy. Today I hope to caramelize a honey, turmeric, and seed topping for the sweet potatoes, and roast acorn squash for Friday.

An unplanned flight, my adventures eating a Home Ec Thanksgiving dinner, and best wishes…

This holiday is traditionally about food. It is also about gathering and talking and spending time with people who play a role in your life. I have memories of many family Thanksgivings, and feel blessed for the food, conversations, the rooms in which they were held, and the outdoor walks and adventures they included.

One Thanksgiving afternoon I was dragged out of the house by one hand. I had opened the front door to our no-longer-existing west deck and a powerful gust of wind took both the storm door I held by the handle and myself and threw us against the concrete wall bordering our property. I was miraculously unhurt, but family members recall me “flying through the air” with humor.

Decades before—this would have been in the 1980s when I had two young children but was again substitute teaching—I was invited by high schools students to their Thanksgiving feast. They needed a guest. I said I would certainly come if I were in the building on the day. They insisted it was part of the assignment in their Home Economics/Foods class to have a guest. I don’t remember now if I made a special trip, I think I must have because if I had been subbing that day, it’s unlikely I would have had a prep during the right period. So I sat at a table with three girls and ate the meal they prepared. The food was probably good since I do not recall that it was not and I was not yet vegetarian. They had cooked an entire meal over the course of several days and as a team. I think there must have been turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable. Rolls and pie? Probably.

As we feasted, I told them about my own memories of the holiday and asked them about their family Thanksgivings, and—here’s the shocking and most memorable moment—none of them had ever celebrated Thanksgiving with a feast. One girl went home straight after school each day to care for younger siblings, another did all the cooking while both parents worked, a third said her working mother had insisted that cooking a meal that is traditional to many families was too expensive. She was shocked to find how cheap it was to buy a raw turkey. (I think in those days, a smallish turkey could be had for under 50¢ a pound.) Would they now make a Thanksgiving meal on their own? I hoped so.

The working poor are deprived of more than money. They are deprived of holidays and memories, of family togetherness and celebration.

My older son said yesterday on the phone that he’d visited a friend’s house while in high school and was told they were having “chicken-fried steak” for dinner. He hadn’t known what it was. He said he mostly remembered eating soup and crackers for meals. That might have been in his teens, but in self-defense, I will say I always made holiday meals, including roasting a turkey and making dressing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I made fruit cakes with actual fruit and mince meat from venison. I made meatloaf, and barbecued wild salmon, enchiladas, and tune noodle casseroles. I baked cakes and made mushroom meringues.

However, it’s true that by the time our sons were teenagers, most midweek meals were the soup or vegetable stew I cooked on Sundays while grading papers at the dining table. My workweek was seven days, often beginning at 7:30am when I left for school and not ending sometimes until 8:30pm, after which students had been warned they were not allowed to call me.

I can look back at those long days and long weeks now and think I might have tried harder to work a 40-hour week. But I didn’t.

My job mattered to me. I loved my work and cared deeply about my students and their education. I know sometimes that my family came second. In all honesty, I am only thankful for all of it.

Thank you, Gary and Alan and Ian, and Mom who is gone with the rest of my blood relatives. I do not have many people alive in my family, but today I have Kerris and Eden and their parents, and we have three grandchildren. I cannot thank them enough for their presence in our lives.

Like some of our contemporaries, we hope to see all our family, if not today then tomorrow. Gary and I spent a decade eating two Thanksgivings—one with his family, then the second with mine. Today, holidays are divided and we hope tomorrow will commence a new tradition of Black Friday luncheons in Portland with our children and grandchildren present.

My best wishes: may you breathe deeply, converse at length, and laugh until your sides hurt. May you forgive, including yourself. May you eat something you like to taste, say something kind, do something that helps you notice the world, and remember this as a good day.

I am thankful, every time I remember, for that little girl, sitting on her tricycle, watching the construction site.

There is ice between us and family this morning, so we will wait another hour before our drive to Portland.

We wish you well, and safe journeys for us all.

6 thoughts on “THE MEAL

  1. I remember one year my Mom decided that the family should go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving. It was just the five of us. Our relatives were all in Pennsylvania. I was probably 10 or so. I don’t remember the food I just remembered it was a disappointment as it seemed too formal and there were no leftovers. It is something I never want to do again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy Thanksgiving Jan and Gary. Many memories of family feasts and every year they are different. Awaiting the arrival of George and Terra and their two boys. Enjoy the families🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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