Thanksgiving. Just the mention of this holiday has me salivating for turkey and sweet potato casserole treasuring memories of cherished family traditions.
One very weird tradition I have carried into my adulthood is that the turkey is always referred to as “Willie the Bird.” My grandmother called him that and would say to her dinner guests, “Would you like Willie’s leg or his wing?” She would talk to Willie as she was slicing him up and thank him for feeding the flock.
Nana’s dinners, especially those on holidays, were nothing short of perfection. Her roast turkey was golden brown and juicy, and her pies were always made from scratch! She would be mortified that I now fry our gobbler and use Pet Ritz crusts for my pies.
Nana would also cringe to know that I never remember how to set a formal table without looking it up in my Good Housekeeping cookbook every single year. Martha Stewart would be appalled too.
Thank goodness Nana never heard how I once left the giblet bag inside the turkey because it was my first time cooking one and I did not know about the secret stash of body parts inside the bird. But you should know that it made delicious gravy that did not need a thickening agent. I guess the wax paper did the trick!
Or how about the time I placed the creamed onions on the table and the nine by twelve casserole dish exploded like a bursting dam after a hurricane! Talk about a mess that delayed the dinner!
Or the fancy cloth napkins I rarely use which were covered in cat hair because one of my precious kitties made her way to the top shelf of the pantry and nested upon the stored linens. Paper napkins had to take center stage that Thanksgiving.
Or the homemade pumpkin pie I was so proud of that was made from our very own Halloween pumpkin that tasted like crap.
Just when you want everything to go right, something goes terribly wrong. These are bad happenings you never forget and re-live in your head every year when turkey day rolls around.
But the better moments outweigh them and it’s not about the food on the table at all. It’s those around the table that made so many Thanksgivings incredibly warm and memorable that have imprinted my heart forever.
Having been raised in my grandparent’s apartment, though it was small, it was always filled with family who needed a helping hand, and not just on Thanksgiving. I can’t recall a single holiday meal that did not include extra mouths to feed. My grandmother was the oldest of eleven children and she always had a sibling or two who needed uplifting. She hosted one who was going through a rough spot financially, one who had PTSD after time serving our country, and one who never married who needed to be surrounded by loved ones during every holiday season.
As the years went on, my mom and dad followed suit. Every year, mom would invite a family or two for dinner who had no relatives in town so they would not be alone. There were several who came to our dinner table having lost their spouses during the year. And every single holiday, my parents donated a turkey dinner to the Salvation Army for a family in need.
I learned from the best. My sister and I have followed in our parent’s footsteps by taking guests into our homes every year, making the occasion extra special. It is our way to be thankful for the abundance of blessings bestowed on us.
So even though it’s a festive culinary season and I, like everyone else, easily devour way too many calories for six weeks straight, it’s really not about the food.
It’s about the love we can share with others to brighten their lives. They will be so grateful they won’t even notice that the giblets were left inside the turkey or that there was cat hair on the napkins! They will just gobble up the love! And you will too.