Well, after yesterday’s rather dour look at American thanksgiving, I must sheepishly report that, today, our house smells frickin’ amazing.
Yesterday: I baked pumpkin pie, apple pie, stuffing, and corn-rice pudding. Made giblet stock.
Cooked tacos for dinner. Set the turkey and fresh ham into their respective brines. Cut up fresh fruit (from several foreign countries, I know).
Now: Dough for dinner rolls is rising, and already smells mahvellous.
Soon: Meats in the oven. Breads baking. Potatoes bubbling. Gravy thickening.
Later: Bellies stuffed. Pies eaten. Coffee sipped. I’m already sleepy.
It’s the smells that make this holiday so wonderful, I tell you. No wonder our nose is the sense most closely tied to memory. Every waft from the kitchens brings a new wave of nostalgia for Thanksgivings past.
In my younger days, we all crowded at Grandma’s house for the Thanksgiving feast. We hunkered down in her basement around a ping-pong table whose net had been removed. That might sound funny, but the net would have made it really hard to pass plates from one half of the table to the other.
When Grandma got a little older and tired of cooking food for 127 people, we started having the big meal at my parents’ house. That was exciting. My parents were so busy cooking for three entire days that they completely forgot about us. In our house, being forgotten about was kind of a good thing. We ate the rest of our Hallowe’en candy for meals, played naked in the bathroom, and didn’t have to brush our teeth. Now that was a holiday.
Now it’s my turn. I’m doing the cooking and preparing the feast. Unfortunately, no one shows up, but at least it’s not a function of my culinary ability. Dad is gone, Mom is in Florida, sister is with her fiance’s family, and bro is in Tacoma. My other relatives are with their families elsewhere. The in-laws come over, but it’s after they’ve all eaten someplace else. No one anticipates our gigantic meal the way my siblings and I did with Grandma’s, or later, my Dad’s, when we were growing up.
I miss the big, formal dinners my own family used to have. I miss the excitement, the agonizing wait while the turkey was carved by Grandpa, who snacked on the crispy skin while he cut and plated the meat. (It should be noted that Grandpa, who did have a heart bypass surgery at one point, lived to be well in his 80s.)
I miss the family members arriving in spurts, one carload at a time, bursting in the door with trays and casseroles and boxes of baked things that someone had to find room for on the already-crowded bar. I miss the hugs and kisses on cold, red cheeks, and the coats that smelled like crisp pre-winter weather. I miss the joy of seeing cousins we only played with a handful of times each year.
I miss my quiet grandparents, my maternal ones. They were the only members of my mom’s side of the family at our gatherings, but they fit right in. It would have been weird for them not to be there. Later, after they had both passed away, it was awfully weird not to see them sitting on straight-backed chairs in the living room.
I miss my mom’s gravy, my dad’s pipe, my grandma’s giggle, my grandpa’s doodles, my aunt’s hugs, my other aunt’s cookies, my cousins’ camraderie around the Kid Table. I miss the Kid Table. I miss the fancy salt-and-pepper shakers and festive plates that only came out three times a year. I miss the weird christmas tree that spun like a disco ball and threw bizarre light shapes on the concrete block walls of my gram’s basement. I miss my gram’s basement, where we kids played with my aunt’s old toys for hours at a time. Most of all, I think I just miss the whole damn family.
Today, my aunts are with their grandchildren. My cousins are with their kids. My dad and three of four grandparents are dead. Gram is with her great grandchildren. My mom is remarried and with her new family. My sibs are across the country. It’s just me and my hubby and my own kids, now. It seems so surreal on Thanksgiving to wake up and have someone tugging on my leg, saying, Mama? That used to be me, saying Mama.
It still is me, whenever I smell a turkey cooking.
Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.