I love Thanksgiving. It is a simple holiday. I can enjoy the company of family and friends and savor a good meal.
I love that I never need to struggle with words to wish someone a culturally sensitive Fall Harvest Feast. It’s just plain old Happy Thanksgiving and most people reward me with a smile when I say this, rather than a harried furrowed brow. My friends almost universally describe Thanksgiving as a holiday without “baggage;” no further explaining needed.
This year I promptly put away the Halloween decorations to maximize the time my little Pilgrims could grace the mantel. At my house, unlike the mall, it’s one holiday at a time. I wanted to soak in every joyful minute of my favorite festival before the “holiday that shall not be named” arrives. I don’t need to think about presents on this day, just presence.
My Thanksgiving memories are happy ones. It was always a spirited gathering at my aunt’s house with extended relatives. There was a main dining table and a “kids table,” which was actually several card tables set next to one another and patched together with worn table cloths. While turkey and mashed potatoes were served, that is not the food that made a lasting impression. I recall candied yams with marshmallows piled on top, goopy green bean casserole and lime green jello with shredded carrots hovering near the surface of the round mold. The final touch was jellied cranberry positioned in several stations across the table to help mark each pod of people. The memory is so vivid because each bowl of the deep red accent was left purposely and unapologetic in the shape of the can so we could admire its ridges and slice it more easily.
This week when I prepare cranberry sauce for my own family it will be made from fresh cranberries, however I can’t help but smile when I reminisce about my mother’s frustration if she couldn’t coax her cranberries out without breaking the can shape. It was not beautiful food found by perusing the pages of Food and Wine. But, the meal was a potluck prepared with pride.
At our table this week we will gather with extended family and do our updated version of the banquet. There won’t be candied yams or lime green jello, but I know the food and company will imprint on the memories of our children. Although I don’t know what it will be, I am confident they will recall a signature “dish” such as the cranberries and look back with fondness 30 years from now.
I try to be thankful every day but I will dig a little deeper this Thursday. I live in a free country. I have a roof over my head and plenty of food to eat. I will be with people I love, including a daughter home from college. We are healthy. I will see my nephew and niece, who are expecting their first baby soon. We will gather, share food and laugh. I will feel satisfied that we are carrying on a great American tradition into the next generation. I will give myself permission to indulge and enjoy the heartfelt simplicity of the season.
Carol Lewis Gullstad November 19, 2012