My favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving because I love to eat.
Well, I love being with family, too.
I lived close to a large extended family growing up in and around Detroit. My grandmother spent weeks preparing the house for more than 30 people every year. Relatives from as far as Cleveland drove in the early winter to sit at her table and eat until they couldn't move.
I always marveled at what she was able to crowd onto that little round table that only sat eight: a 20-pound turkey, macaroni and cheese, dressing, collard greens, homemade rolls, candied yams, Honey Baked ham...
Everything was perfect for about 5 minutes. A senior male in our family would bless the food, and then we stood in line to eat whatever we could. Amidst all the jokes about how much food was on my cousin's plate and the complimentary sounds coming from my uncle who loved my grandmother's dressing, I felt the most love ever.
After dinner, my grandmother, along with three or four others, brought out the dessert spread, which included coconut cake, mince meat and sweet potato pies, Jell-O mold (which I believe is formerly referred to as ambrosia) and a surprise dessert like lemon meringue pie or pineapple upside-down cake. My Uncle Sam always told us that we would get fat like him if we ate too much cake, and Uncle Dan admonished us to go back to the kitchen instead of hovering in the dining room because "grown folks talkin' and kids don't have no place in here." My Uncle Pete, whose real name is Anthony (long story that I'll save for another post), was my favorite storyteller.
As for Uncle Howard and Uncle Tony, they challenged everybody in the Bid Whist games. I used to sit under my grandfather's chair and he would teach me how to play while everyone else yelled at him. "Stop talking to that baby. She can't help you. Just play." Thanksgiving was a celebration of love, family and history.
Ever since we moved away from Michigan six years ago, Thanksgiving hasn't been the same. Because of the costs associated with traveling for our large family, we spend our Thanksgivings in St. Louis and Christmas with our extended family. At our first post-move Thanksgiving, I was the head cook and I learned a lot. I learned that you have to take the insides of the turkey out of the cavity BEFORE cooking it. I learned that the homemade rolls weren't worth the day-long work necessary to prepare them. I learned that after shopping at four different grocery stores and spending weeks to prepare my house so that it could look like my grandmother's, the holidays felt not-so-fun anymore. I was so tired after that first Thanksgiving at my house that I decided to hold a potluck the next year.
I want to create the same experience that I had at my grandparents' house. I want my children to know that sometimes people stop by unexpectedly and food is always waiting for them. I want the kids to know that food is never wasted because the widow or the sick lady down the street will always appreciate some apple pie or some pound cake. I invite the kids into the kitchen, so that they can each help with the meal. I tell them stories about my wild family in an effort to make a connection between generations.
Still, it's never the same as it was in my childhood. It may take another 20 years of trying before I can duplicate Thanksgiving at my grandmother's house.
In the meantime, I am thankful for the multi-generational experience that has shaped my outlook on life.
I give thanks for those collard greens that melt in your mouth, too.