Other than my house exploding from time to time, there are sometimes coincidences within our hearts that are less volatile, but equally remarkable and difficult to explain. Since it is the season and Thanksgiving is in a few days, of course it’s only appropriate to reflect upon my own family’s Thanksgiving stories and traditions.
For us, our traditions are as follows;
Grandpa comes out of the closet.
After that’s out of the way, my dad prepares our turkey that’s always way too big. (At least twenty pounds every year.)
My dad always “accidentally” puts too much sage into our stuffing. And says “oops, too much sage.”
My mom bakes two pumpkin pies, and one mince-meat pie. She garnishes them with a sprig of holly leaf (her name is Holly) with three red-hot candies as berries, and a sprinkle of powdered sugar for snow.
We turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
We shoot our guns off the front porch.
My sister and I tackle the mountain of dishes and break the wishbone.
Of the origins I can remember, it was foretold that my grandmother hated sage. But my grandfather loved it. He always promised my grandmother that he would go light on the sage, and then add far too much. As he dumped it in, he accompanied his action with a joyous and campy “Whoops, Marge! Too much sage!”
The only person in my family who liked mincemeat pie was my Grandpa. My mother bakes one for him every year. Though, I am the only one who ever ends up eating it. It’s a bit coincidental seeing as how my Grandpa and I share more in common than we do with anyone else in the family.
A few years ago, as my mother plundered our freezer looking for pie crust, she happened upon my stash of Uno bars. If you’ve never had one, you’re missing out. They’re a whipped chocolate bar with crushed wafer, like a Three Musketeers, but lighter and with a little crunch to them. They’ve been around since the 1920’s, but they’re a little difficult to find. Of course they’re best when frozen, and so when the historical movie theater on Main street gets an order in, I stock up, take them home, and stash them in the freezer.
As I walked through the kitchen, getting things ready to start prepping the turkey, my mother stood in front of the freezer, staring at an Uno bar as if it contained a coded message.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, still holding it.
“The old movie theater, why?”
My mom’s lower lip quivered. She looked up at me.
“Why do you put them in the freezer?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. I really didn’t have an explanation. “I guess they’re just the best that way.”
My mom closed the freezer.
“My dad, your Grandfather . . . he used to take me to the movies and we’d sit in the fancy seats. Before each show, he’d buy a couple Uno bars and have the usher put them in the ice box. He always asked them if they’d bring them out to him half way through the movie when they were nice and frozen.”
We stood quietly in the kitchen for a moment.
“Should I go get Grandpa?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, clearing her throat. “Let’s pull Grandpa out of the closet. I’ve missed him. “
I walked back and pulled our 1940’s Westinghouse stand-alone turkey roaster out of the pantry. I wheeled it out to the middle of the kitchen, and plugged it in to heat up. It’s the same roaster my Grandpa used to cook his turkeys, and it still works like brand new. I have to admit that when I see it, I miss my Grandpa as well, even if I’ve never met the man. He died just before I was born. He knew I was coming and his only advice to my mother about me was “Don’t name her Betty.”
In my family, as with most, there are certain traditions we carry on with us, that were not traditions when they first happened. Sometimes we found them so horrendous, or so funny, or so shocking, it became a joke that made its appearance every year and will continue to do so for who-knows-how-long. Or sometimes they are inherited with no explanation as to origin, spawning dinner table tales that grow more glorious with passing decades. And sometimes, they are simple, unremarkable, but warm us like a hug from a loved one who has long since gone.
For we find that at this time of year in particular, amidst the insanity that is holiday madness in modern America, we eventually get around to acknowledging the importance of our family and loved ones, both passed and present.
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