The holiday season is upon us and the countdown to Black Friday has begun. In a retail world fueled by panic, greed and imitation, one twenty-four hour day isn't enough and Black Friday begins on Thursday. I'm sick of it already and think that the hoopla of the holiday sales extravaganza kicks an important national holiday to the curb before the turkey carcass is cold. Once again, we let the marketplace manipulate us. We rush to be ahead of everyone, to get a thrill from a "bargain" that we probably don't need, and somehow "win." Some shoppers don't buy anything; they just want the excitement of the throng and the chase for something, anything. Along the way, the meaning of yet another cultural marker fades. Would it help if we changed the name of the Last Thursday in November to Thanks-Giving? Nope. It would never catch on because who takes time to be thankful for much these days? "I want mine, yours and theirs and I want it now!!" Don't get trampled or run over out there in the busy world, Babies.
Saturday: The crisp morning temperature hovers in the low forties under a clear sky; branches tremble in the light wind. In the bare Yellow Poplar, Sweet Gum and Long leaf pine branches, Grasshopper Sparrows, Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Grackles and Wrens hop here and there to feed. Light bounces off the tree trunks and the remaining leaves display remnants of golds and coppers. After nibbling on pine bores and other insects, the birds drink from the little stream that feeds into the lake. When the leaves fell during the last heavy wind cycle, a tiny waterfall became visible deep in the trees and exposed a new element of the lake. The first day I saw the water rushing down the short span, a Great Blue Heron waded up the stream.
I am grateful that beauty exists even in the midst of decay; I can see it and appreciate how it all works in the larger scheme of things. Unlike the shoppers who try to fill up their emptiness with material things, natural things work just fine for me.
Sunday: Today at the FoM, rain, wind and darkness create an atmosphere of isolation. Friends from across my whole lifetime who remained or returned to share my journey are special treasures. Their gifts of friendship are as varied as the raindrops that obscure my view of the mountain and the lake today. They offer love, caring, humor, fun and connection to a bigger world and different times. They're all authentic and add texture to my life -- and I am grateful.
I am also grateful that I do not know the man who has camped in an expensive tent outside a Best Buy for two weeks to be first in line for Black Friday.
Monday: The temps at FoM today were very warm after a very cold and wet weekend. Today, I am grateful that when I went to a new location, I didn't get lost and even came home via a different route.
Tuesday: Today, I am grateful for friends who take the time to stay in touch all the time -- not just at holidays. Oh, and that it isn't snowing here at the FoM.
Wednesday: Today, I am grateful that four dear people called me to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving! and again that it's not snowing here at FoM.
Thursday: Thanksgiving Day here at the FoM and all over the USA is a time for making and recalling traditions. Thanksgiving isn't just the beginning of the holidays or mad holiday shopping. Americans celebrate the day with a holiday meal -- whatever the norm for their own ethnic culture may be or with the mainstream meal, turkey and accompanying delights. The intent of this holiday was to offer thanks for all the good things of life we enjoy as Americans. Part of that is a great meal and family.
My house smells like turkey that I just took out of the oven. Turkey and salmon are favorites. The smell of the roasted bird evokes many memories -- all different and all somehow related to this holiday. I am grateful for wholesome and nutritious food -- yes, turkey in particular. My list of ideas, things and people I am grateful for is long and meaningful to me. This holiday is full of traditional memories that I cherish and recalls a rite of passage for me to adulthood.
In the early 1950s, we listened to the Detroit Lions on the radio after dinner when they played their annual Thanksgiving Day football game. Macy's held their annual Santa Parade but television sets were mostly in the big cities and not every one's living room. I didn't know anyone who had a TV then. One or two of the larger department stores in the city near my town had a Santa and a Toy Land. Those opened the day after Thanksgiving then too.
When I was a child, my favorite aunt and uncle and my young cousins had moved far away from the mountains to Connecticut. One Thanksgiving, they traveled all night and into Thanksgiving Day to get to my grandmother's. We had a great family Thanksgiving that year -- the men were home from war and jobs and food were plentiful. We didn't have everything but we had turkey with other things I didn't like -- sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts for example. I didn't like pumpkin pie then nor do I now. But the turkey was great. That Thanksgiving a huge blizzard moved ashore from the Atlantic, crossed the mountains and paralyzed the whole area with snow and ice. My memory is vivid and I wish pictures could be shared with you.
That winter I learned how bittersweet temporary homecomings could be when my aunt and uncle left to make the long and perilous trip back to Connecticut. I can still see my tow-headed cousin's face in the iced-framed window of that Chevy as they drove away. Her little brother was still a babe in arms and sat on his mother's lap. It took two days to get back to Connecticut and as soon as the spring thaw came, they moved back to the mountains. I watched my cousins grow up and we stayed close.
Several years ago, my uncle and my female cousin joined those beloved relatives who are no longer alive. Alzheimer's Disease has captured my aunt and my youngest cousin juggles his full plate of life's complications. Sadly, the memories of those we loved and lost to the randomness of the universe have to be enough on holidays now. And, memories, sad or happy, weave themselves into the tapestry of life we are grateful for having. Happy Thanksgiving.
Friday: The Thanksgiving when I was sixteen, my mother was in the hospital recovering from surgery. Unlike this year, the weather was warm for November and I opened the back door in the kitchen. After a dry summer and fall, small brush fires had simmered on the nearby mountain and an eerie smokiness seemed to return some days. A quince bush grew right by the back steps and it kept its green leaves and little rock-like quinces right past Halloween. That was the year I learned how to make an edible holiday dinner. Like many things to come in my life, I didn't know I couldn't do that, so I did.
When I agreed that sure, I could make the dinner, I was clueless about how to do that. Somehow, a little turkey was in the refrigerator, along with Pillsbury Crescent rolls, fresh green beans in a brown paper bag and a can of jellied cranberry sauce. After a phone discussion with my mother about 'turkey things,' I began preparations about 9:30 or so. I recall washing out the inside of the turkey under the faucet! and pulling out the giblets. Thick coarse pinfeathers had to be removed with pliers back then. My step dad was patient and reminded me of things that needed doing and he removed the pinfeathers.
The turkey cooked, browned and I didn't drop it when I opened the oven to baste it. In a few hours, the house smelled wonderful. I cleaned the green beans and cooked them in a pressure cooker with two slices of chopped bacon and a bit of water. When the turkey came out, the rolls went in and while they cooked, I set the table, discovered how to open both ends of the cranberry can to release the sauce and sweetened the iced tea. I can guarantee that I did not make a stock, gravy, stuffing or potatoes. We may have had canned sweet potatoes but my hands stirred no gravy and I had never heard of a roux back then. My family ate our little meal and then went to see our mother who came home the next week.
So what's the big deal about this? Cooking that dinner was a rite of passage for me. Somehow, it affirmed a confidence that I only hoped I possessed and I had something to build on the rest of the year. In the next few years before I left home, I cooked many, many meals and became an accomplished home cook. Across my life, I've cooked holiday dinners for large groups and tiny ones. When large groups gathered around my table, I christened the meal: The Feast of the Beast.
Sharing food with family and friends is central to holidays and other fun times. Food is important across our culture as a way to share in the process of be-ing. I began my cooking experiences as a "pinch of this and that" cook, became a semi-homemade type of cook, and gradually turned to more complicated dishes of all kinds. I did learn how to make several kinds of roux!
Cooking and feeding people is a way of nurturing more than their appetites if we do it right. Cooking for other people was always my favorite time in the kitchen and the part I remain most grateful for -- I don't do that much now but will any chance I have. As we get older, our stamina for cooking big meals lessens but our desire to nurture burns just as brightly.