I don’t hear much talk about giving thanks this year. We seem to consumed with our problems. And there’s a lot to worry about, not the least of which are the divisions in our country and families. In fact, some are “skipping” Thanksgiving this year to avoid further division fueled by heated arguments around the family table. If only things were different, maybe we’d feel more grateful, be more in the mood for Thanks Giving, It take a lot of energy to be grateful when we’re preoccupied with what we don’t have,
Growing up, the family always came to the farm for Thanksgiving. I looked forward to having the cousins visit, but I envied my “town friends” Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry dressing, sweet potato casserole with pineapple and marshmallows on top. Exotic dishes like broccoli casserole and Wonder Bread rolls with oleo. (For those less than a “certain age,” that’s margarine, sort of.) Ours was a simpler fare consisting almost entirely of what we raised on the farm; chicken and corn bread dressing, hot corn bread in iron skillets, creamed corn, pickled peaches and deviled eggs, sweet potato and pecan pie. Not cool. My childhood favorite, because none of it came from the farm, was my Aunt Katherine’s lime jello mold with pecans (ok, these were ours) celery and pineapple.
Imagine. Nowadays, this menu would be considered gourmet! (With the possible exception of the jello salad) Free range chicken, home churned butter and whipped cream from whole, non pasteurized, non GMO milk of placid free-ranging cows. Fruits and vegetables canned from our gardens and orchards.
It was better back then, right? The family was united. The food was simple and fresh. There were no hard feelings, no rancor. Smiles all around the family table. The kids weren’t hooked on electronics, didn’t interrupt and always said “please and thank you.” We didn’t watch TV, we talked to each other. We were poor but happy. Norman Rockwell would have loved us. Oh, for the good old days.
Now looking back with the perspective of years, I see a very different picture. The food really was great even if I couldn’t see past the envy of my friends’ Wonder Bread rolls and pies made from canned pumpkins grown in the midwest. And we weren’t characters out of a Norman Rockwell tableau. Some family members were estranged, some battled carefully disguised addiction and depression. All struggled against an economic system controlled by a privileged few that perpetuated poverty in our family through generations as far back as we could remember. (Sound familiar?) Tacit agreement on certain topics that were never discussed, especially race and politics. All presided over by my grandfather, the unyielding and stoic family patriarch.
Luckily, our family today agree for the most part on things political and at worst tolerate each other’s beliefs. I’m not worried about heated arguments around the Thanksgiving table. But it won’t be a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. Some of our family live far away and some have lost touch. We have our allotment of disease and dysfunction and some of us are just plain weird. (Depends on who you ask.)
This Thanksgiving’s food will come from chain stores, not the garden. Some of us are vegan, others lactose intolerant, allergic to gluten, cranberries or chocolate. Some have wine, some abstain. For a moment, I will long for the simpler days of real butter and cream, fresh fruits and vegetables, and sweet potato pie. But only for a moment. We always make it work and it’s always delicious.
So really, not much has changed. It’s a different family now, but just as then, we love each other in spite of, and sometimes because of, our weaknesses and foibles, struggle with our demons, tolerate our differences and enjoy Thanks Giving dinner together. And I don’t intend to waste another minute thinking about what might have been.