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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gray Matters: Savoring Thanksgiving

Friday, November 24, 2006

I love Thanksgiving Day ! It's too bad that it comes when thoughts of the approaching cold are plaguing us, but that is by necessity.

You see the day's roots actually spring from the Harvest Festivals of our earliest recorded civilizations. They were  observed when the fruits of man's labors were garnered and the time had come to offer thanks to the Deities, the true givers of abundance. Centuries later, the same sense endures, though sometimes I wonder if we are as aware of our dependence on the Deity as the ancients were. 

The part I like best about our modern observance is the way it has slipped in between the incredibly "hokey" Halloween madness (no matter how artificial they are, spiders still make my skin crawl,) and the obsessive compulsion to extract all possible profit from the Holy Season.  Happily, Thanksgiving seems to have avoided much of the "hype," which is good.    

I like to recall Thanksgivings from the past. My grandmother's cousin and her husband, Jabe and Lizzie Smothers, (no, I didn't make up those names) were the only "family" we had nearby. As Lizzie loved to cook, we were often invited there. No one had turkey in those days, so she served some other roast fowl, usually chicken. There was stuffing, which I liked pretty well, certainly better than my mother's -- Mom used  too much sage for my taste. The mashed potatoes and gravy were superb. However, the sweet potatoes and cranberries both left me puzzled. 

As a kid, I had this fixed notion that vegetables were savory and fruits were sweet, and  both of those stepped over the line. Oh, I'd take a few tastes of the candied yams but sweet vegetables were about as unwelcome as those little red berries that promised to be sweet but then betrayed my tongue with unexpected tartness. Celery was always a special treat. Lizzie put unusual elongated dishes at the top of each plate to rest it on. Then there were little crystal "salts" to dip it in. She had all sorts of fine china and lovely glassware of which I was in awe. As I think back, the setting itself probably left more of an impression on me than the food.

It was only when my husband and I began celebrating Thanksgiving in our own home that the traditions really were established. I'm not above bragging that my dressing deserved all the praise it got. I replaced the sage with other herbs and made added improvements on the kind  I grew up with. One daughter-in-law copied  my recipe and it now receives proper adulation in various areas of Montana.  

Then on to the next generation --  a Des Moines granddaughter adopted my methods and  carries on the dressing tradition spectacularly. My pumpkin pies were "pretty good, mostly", as they'd say on Prairie Home Companion, but a second daughter-in-law who is the quintessential gourmet, has taken that delicacy to another level.

Yes, the tradition is continuing, built, as it should be, around worship and family feasting, Thanksgiving, the quiet holiday, is well on its way to becoming the one I like best.