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Thanksgiving nostalgia

A few weeks ago, I was reading blog after blog about Thanksgiving. Some from my Canadian friends who celebrate in October, and some who are just overly excited about the holiday (or just like to prepare early, like Tiffany 😉 ).

I promised a blog about my holiday traditions, and promptly procrastinated. I thought about it … alot.  However, thinking about it sorta depressed me. Now, with only 1 day left until the actual holiday, I thought I’d better not put it off anymore.  So, here goes.

When I was growing up, my mother’s family would have these majorly huge feasts on Thanksgiving. They would take place over 2 days or so, depending on who was coming from out of town. If it was the usual, close-to-home people, we’d all just gather early on Thanksgiving morning. But every couple of years, we’d have relatives from 1000 miles away, and they all seemed to come on the same year. I’m sure it was planned that way, but it always seemed like such a huge coincidence as a child.

I had cousins galore to spend time with. My grandfather’s family was always large, and so he had plenty of bedrooms for everyone to sleep in. We’d either go a day early or stay a day late to spend time with those rarely seen relatives.

In the mornings, all the women would converge on the tiny kitchen; everyone bumping into each other. As a child, it seemed as though it was some sort of well choreographed kitchen dance. The kids were told to go outside and play … but don’t get dirty! Us older kids would usually go for a walk, most likely to get away from the younger kids.

When it was time to eat, we all crammed into the dining room and living room. Once you were in, you were stuck until everyone was done. There was no room to move around. In my high school years, my grandfather sold that house, and moved to a smaller house. But I’d swear there were more people that would show up then! Maybe it was just that all of us kids were the size of adults by that time.

There had to be at least 30 people and maybe upwards of 50 or 60 on some years. So many people, that 3 tables were not enough. Tables filled every available space. Some in the kitchen, some in the dining room, some in the living room. And us teenagers would take our plates into the bedrooms or out onto the front porch to eat. We usually had decent weather that day, even if the days preceding and following were rainy or snowy.

The amount and variety of food would boggle the mind. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but there was turkey, mashed potatoes (white and sweet), stuffing, corn, lima beans, green beans, mixed vegetables, gravy, warm rolls and bread. Then for dessert we had just about every kind of pie imaginable, plus ice-cream. And since the day would go on and on, there was usually a tray of cheeses, deviled eggs, sweet gherkin pickles, olives (black and green),  pretzels, potato chips, raw vegetables, and an assortment of dips. I swear, I’ve never seen so much food in one place!

After dinner (which was actually closer to lunchtime), we’d sit around and chat, or play games or go outside and play. I’m sure there was a tv on with football, but if there was, I don’t think I ever saw it. The feast would last all day, ending only when the last of the people would finally go home, or go to bed. Dishes were an all day chore to be done by everyone at some point.

This tradition ended shortly after high school. I’m not sure I know why, but I think it was because my grandparents were just getting too old to host it anymore. It was too much work.

Which kinda worked out for me, too. I was with my first husband, and his mother liked to host her own Thanksgiving. So every other year, we went to her place or my father’s, alternately. The amount of people that I encountered dropped by at least half.

The amount and variety of food was drastically reduced. Old favorites were gone from my plate. A couple of new favorites replaced them, however it was disproportionate.  At my father’s, I had a creamy mushroom slop. I wish I knew what to call it; it tastes much better than it sounds! If I can get my step-grandmother to give up the recipe, I will try to post it. At my mother-in-law’s, I became addicted to stuffed mushroom caps. Stuffed with crab and/or lobster meat. And no, I never did get her recipe before I was divorced from her son! I know, I am just as disappointed.

Even though the variety of food was sparse at my mother-in-law’s, it was all great! And she did start a new tradition: she’d forget the rolls in the oven until the burning smell would remind us, as we were sitting at the table eating. Every year. Without fail. *snicker*

After our divorce, my tradition changed again. My father started going elsewhere, and my boyfriend fiance common-law husband … oh hell, let’s just call him Michael …  Michael’s huge Italian family had their own way of doing things. Some of the variety of food was added back, and some foods I’d never heard of, let alone tried, were added to the mix. Like “holiday soup”, which years later I found out was “Italian Wedding Soup”. Good stuff, if it’s made properly. It was always a surprise, depending on who made it.

The biggest thing is that all of the holiday luster just seeped out of my life. It took me years to feel like I was accepted by alot of his relatives, and during that time, I started to resent having to spend holidays with them. But I put on my fake smile and cheery attitude for about 6 years. After that, it became a fight to get me to go. Of course, Michael and I were fighting about everything by then. No surprise that we finally split up after our 9th year.

And now, yet another family and another tradition with my current Husband. The feeling of acceptance and family is there in abundance! But the food. Well, let’s just say that things took a major downward turn. My Husband’s family cooks much the same way the Amish do. Alot of that food is foreign to me. And if it’s not foreign, it’s something I just. don’t. like, period. Gone was all the food I’ve ever enjoyed for Thanksgiving.

So, I get turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. There might be some vegetable, like corn, that I’ll actually eat. I’ll put a small spoonful of stuffing on my plate, just so I don’t seem rude (and then I’ll pick at it and cover it up with something else, just like a child). Oh, and the home-made bread that his grandfather bakes. YUM! There are no condiments on the table, except for butter. Everything is cooked as plain as humanly possible.

There’s stuffing (they call it filling) with oysters. Ew! Stuff called “chow-chow”, which looks as bad as it sounds. Red beet eggs (which always cracks me up, ’cause where I come from, they’re called pickled eggs … and besides, is there any other color of beet besides red?). There might be coleslaw, which I will eat. Usually.  But that’s it! Oh, and I think there’s sweet potatoes, but I don’t eat that anyway, so it’s no big loss.

Dessert is usually ok. Pumpkin and apple pie. Although, last year, the pumpkin pie was stringy, and I had to find a non-rude way of dumping it in the trash without being noticed. 😀  Ice-cream. Yes, that I’ll eat without complaint. It’s all done and over with in 2 hours time, and everyone heads for the door.

So, aside from the usual things that I’m thankful for, like my Son and my Husband, and the people I love, I’m finding it difficult to be thankful for the actual dinner part anymore. I would love nothing more than to have the abundance of food and family that I used to have. But alas, we’ve all moved too far away from each other, and we’ve grown very disconnected from our families.

I am thankful, though, that I have a great bunch of in-laws that have accepted me into their lives and always make me feel welcome. That, and they raised a wonderful guy that I’m proud to call my Husband!

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  1. November 26, 2009 at 2:32 am

    You know, holidays are hard. Period. And as traditions change so do our expectations. I think some of the “sparkle” gets lost in the shuffle. Here’s hoping that you’ll find some of your “sparkle” this season. And, hey, maybe you could recreate some of the old traditions from your growing up years to bring back the specialness.
    Happy Thanksgiving and warm wishes for this entire holiday season!!
    Mindy
    http://www.thesuburbanlife.com

    • November 26, 2009 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks for the reply. 🙂 Yes, they are hard! Thanksgiving is one of the holidays that I actually do celebrate without the feeling of being obligated. I don’t do the religious holidays, but I am obligated to actually show up to the dinners, so there’s always that feeling of “can we hurry up and get out of here!”.

      This year did turn out much better, and for that I am truly thankful! 🙂

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