Okay, so I was a little bored sitting in the car while my husband went into Walgreen’s for some little thing, and I decided to try a selfie to see if I could elicit an expression that might be considered a keeper.
This person is not me. I’m not sullen, and I do have a well-defined nose. If you’ve ever tried taking a selfie while sitting in a dark car at half-past Noon on a very sunny day, this is pretty much what you get. The good news? My 65 year old face has nary a wrinkle! Looks like the entire canvas has been wiped clean. I rather like it. Talk about unmemorizing yourself! At least I can tell that my hair is growing out okay. It feels long to me, but I can see by the picture it’s just approaching medium.
Last Thanksgiving I decided “enough” with all this cooking. It makes a mess, takes up a lot of time, and what’s the difference anyway, right? A roast turkey is a roast turkey. So I went to the dark side and ordered Thanksgiving dinner for eight from my local grocery store.
A side dish called “ambrosia” was included. It was a far cry from the style of ambrosia I remember my late mother-in-law and her sister painstakingly preparing in their tiny kitchen near the Pensacola Navy base. The supermarket ambrosia was a squishy concoction made of tiny marshmallows, sour cream, canned mandarin oranges, canned crushed pineapple, maraschino cherries, and coconut.
Lois and Ann’s elegant Alabama version had four ingredients: navel oranges, red grapefruit, flaked coconut, and a touch of plain old cane sugar. That’s it. They served it in small stemmed crystal compotes. It was the perfect foil for an otherwise rich meal. We called them “the old gals,” and there will never be another pair like them. Buck and I will miss them forever.
I supplemented last year’s supermarket meal with some of our traditional side dishes, including Hopkin’s Boarding House Squash Casserole. Other family members brought a sweet potato dish and desserts. We had great fun, as always, but the storebought main event and its accompaniments were dreadful disappointments. The turkey, overcooked and nearly too salty to eat, the so-called ambrosia a sugar-coma inducing glop. The younger set unsurprisingly went for it. I didn’t dare peek at the nutritional analysis, instead encouraging everyone to take a good walk after the meal.
The packaged dinner came with a whole turkey, dressing, gravy (which was so gross I never put it on the table), the ambrosia (aka “marshmallow delight”) and cranberry sauce.
The cranberry sauce was inoffensive, but it didn’t compare to the Epicurious recipe we’ve used for years, Triple Cranberry Sauce, a fragrant melange of fresh and dried cranberries, orange marmalade and apricot jam, pomegranate juice and cook’s choice of a splash of Grand Marnier or Wild Turkey.
So (as I’m certain you’ve intuited) this year I’m cooking again, and while others at the table may be happy for the return of the good stuff, it’s primarily for my own pleasure. The savory and sweet aromas that fill the house starting several days before the event make a homemade Thanksgiving remarkably pleasurable for the cook.
I have a humble and grateful heart for winding up in this life of comfort and ease, retired and secure in the love of my dear Buck and our whole extended family.
First frost of the season. Lou, our chocolate Lab, is eager to get out in it and explore. One more swallow of steaming black coffee and I’m ready, too. All three million olfactory receptors in her nose are on high alert. We head to the woods and enjoy a fine, brisk walk as the sun shoots bright arrows into the dark forest.
This week brings Thanksgiving, the next a visit from a beloved brother and his wife of more than forty years, the next a six-hour drive to one of the best hospital clinics in the world where my dear love and I will go for his six-month lymphoma scans plus annual physicals for us both.
Busy times. Joyful. Anxious.
I began to set the table last night. Today there’s shopping for Thursday’s gathering. Tomorrow a visit to our local farmer’s market for sweet potatoes, yellow squash, new crop pecans and Florida oranges will complete the foraging, and I’ll be ready to cook, clean, and prepare for my favorite holiday.
It’s my favorite for two reasons. One is that I am lucky to have a naturally grateful heart. The idea of a day set aside for gratitude resonates with me even more than the historical connection. Secondly, I’m relieved to be almost done with November, the month in which both of my parents died, the month when leaves fall. The desolation of the season smells like wood smoke from a light wood knot and still has power to scorch my tender heart. But I am buoyed by love in my life, and the memory of a sliver of time of childhood perfection that smells like sage, thyme, bay leaves, oranges and toasted pecans.
Within my Mississippi-born late mother’s cosmology, no person or activity was lower or more dangerous to the status quo than one she described as “filthy.” To this day, I see that word, avert my eyes and nearly blurt out, “Not me. I’m not that. I don’t do that.” Even if I sometimes am. Even if I sometimes do.
Mother knew something about sinning and way too much about shame. When she escaped the farm, first with the rough boy next door and later with the dark-skinned Choctaw-blooded man who became my father, I expect her Southern Baptist mama lacerated her with some choice words.
Years later, a solid member of the churched class again, Mother sat beside my Daddy on a polished wood pew, she in a navy and white dotted Swiss dress and pillbox hat, he in a sincere blue suit, fingernails clean as a whistle, smelling of Irish Spring.
A dust mote knew better than to settle on a table in Mother’s house. She alphabetized her spice drawer and could refold a fitted sheet to fit back into the original package. She kept the good furniture in our living room polished and largely unused, the door closed except for when the pastor came to call, much like the hushed reception areas found in funeral homes.
Mother reserved the agitated verbal condemnation, “Filthy!” for persons, objects or activities she perceived might contaminate her hard-won life of respectability. Dirt of any kind qualified, as did cigarettes (worse), or a paperback copy of The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins (worst of all) kept under my older sister’s bed, discovered and avidly read by yours truly until caught by you know who.
I’ve found ways to still the incessant voice of the Internal Editor known as my late mother, dead for more than 25 years. But I still wince when I hear the word, “filthy.” And, like her, I alphabetize the herbs and spices in our pantry.
Young kids learn soon enough that the goldfish dies. Even in seemingly safe homes with two parents, siblings, friends down the block, sidewalks and plenty of everything. The goldfish dies.
I remember heart-shaped SweeTARTS. They appeared on Valentine’s Day in red paper heart packets we grade school kids made in Miss Moody’s class. That cute boy, Steve, his wavy blond hair the perfect mane for a young lion, is the one I had an eye on. Me and every other little girl in class.
In the end, it was usually sweet, awkward Paul who thrust a red packet at me and ran away, face red as the construction paper envelope. Still, I peered at the contents as though they were runes. “Hug me.” “My baby.” “Let’s kiss.” “Real Love.” My own heart went into exotic syncopated rhythm. At eight years old, it was the gift — not the giver.
One bite, though, and I was brought back into third-grade reality. Looks sweet. Tastes sour. Sweet. Tart. Appearances deceive. Important life lesson learned.