Remembrances of Thanksgivings Past

Every other Tuesday is #LetsBlogOff day, when bloggers write posts on the same pre-determined subject. Today’s topic: “It’s Thanksgiving, so let’s blog about food.”

It’s all about the food, it’s never about the food. For many Americans, Thanksgiving is the madeleine of holidays, triggering remembrances of holidays past, memories that, before you know it, spiral and spin into other memories. Say you take a sweet potato and drop it in the middle of a frozen lake, ending up with a tangle of cracks spreading out every which way. Start remembering Thanksgiving dinners, and pretty soon you’re every which way yourself. Think of Sallie’s horrible creamed pearl onions and the next thing you know, it’s the little hot dogs in cocktail sauce she served in a little pot simmering over a Sterno flame at grown up parties. Your dress with the bow in the back. Standing on tip toe to spear the hot dogs with toothpicks, and getting scolded for taking too many. And then Sallie herself, and everything there is to remember about her.

The years of unbearable candied yams and marshmallowed sweet potatoes, without which the first unadorned baked sweet potato ever would not have been such a revelation. How Joan and her husband, who served that sweet potato at their quiet Thanksgiving, took you to look for a coat next day. How that was your first Thanksgiving in New York. The vintage coat you’d brought with you from California, the one your new east coast friends laughed at as winter approached. The down coat you finally bought on Greenwich Avenue, and how you bargained for a better price – bargained in a store! The nameless color of that coat. The time Carole came to visit and it was the wettest, coldest day ever, and you both took off your soaking, inadequate boots in the Frick Museum.

The time too much holiday dinner and too much emotion, spiced by teasings from the cousins, created a terrible combustion over the kitchen sink. How tender Uncle George was, holding your hair back. The time in high school, when Bonnie got sick from too much tequila and too many tears, and you held her hair back. How Michael, it turned out, loved you, not Bonnie, but you loved Ted, though not for very long. The look on Ted’s face when he saw your sudden lack of love hanging there between you. Singing “Night in the The City” with Bonnie in the stairwell. Finding out years later that Bonnie had died in a car crash.

The Thanksgiving when you asked your mother if you had to eat turkey and she said no. The smoked salmon for brunch the next day that was the last time you’d eat meat of any kind. Barbara who, though only a year or two older, seemed the coolest, the most sophisticated. Her green velvet pants, her thick brass necklaces. The Chinese restaurant where she insisted on a vegetarian dish. How her vegetable noodles and her green velvet pants got you thinking about things you hadn’t thought about before. Then another restaurant on the way home from another ski trip. Feeling the men staring at you as you passed through the bar on the way to the restroom.

The gelatinous horror of canned cranberry sauce. The stereotype of string beans and sliced almonds. The enormousness of the turkeys. Baba asking who vants a ving. Her apple cobbler. Your mother’s butter-soaked baked chicken. Outlining your hand on construction paper, then coloring in the head, the beak, the feathers, the jiggly thing. The raw potato stabbed with colored toothpicks to look like a turkey’s tail. How it looked more like a peacock. Hearing peacocks cry in the valley behind Tina’s house. Leaving Tina alone while you and Bonnie sang in the stairwell, and all that that led to. The one time it snowed, and the whole family took a snow ball in a coffee can to the hospital so Sallie could feel it. How the neighborhood kids stole your snowman off the brick post while you were gone. How you and Karen loved to walk on the boards between the brick posts as if they were balance beams.

National Day Of Listening

I’ve written about Story Corps before, but Thanksgiving seems a good day to revisit this wonderful project. Story Corps records and archives stories from the lives of everyday people. You could say the folks at Story Corps are collecting the stories of our nation. These oral histories/memories/reminiscences are podcast, and I swear, these three, four, five minute oral histories frequently move me to tears. I just love Scott Macaulay’s Thanksgiving story. (And here’s my earlier post about Story Corps, where I linked to some other favorite stories.)

Story Corps has declared November 26th, 2010 The National Day of Listening. As an alternative to hitting the stores at 3 a.m. (what?!), they ask us to record and post our own interviews with people we love. They even offer a guide, which you can download here.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. There is much to be thankful for.

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