Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving, belatedly.

Beginnings and Endings.

I made a 17.84 pound turkey - four boys plus my DH [Dear Hubby] can eat a lot. Even so, we had leftovers on Sunday evening and have two tupperware containers left of turkey meat. One will be used for Turkey Tetrazzini, the boy's favorite "leftoer" dish, which they only get two or three times a year. The other one will likely end up as turkey pot pie or something, I'm not sure yet.

This is the first year that the younger boys helped me cook the Thanksgiving meal. They have been learning to cook a little, helping with dinner once or twice a week. But they have never been allowed to prepare dishes or assist with any holiday meal before. My oldest son learned a few basic skills but was never really interested in learning to cook. Our ward appears to be disinterested in culinary skills as well. My middle son, however, has had a long love affair with Food Network, and my youngest son is, with a token protest followed by a smile, following along behind him and learning to cook.

In fact, the younger boys are becoming excellent sous chefs, and my middle son is also a budding pastry and dessert chef. They made the veggies for Thanksgiving this year: corn, of course, and green beans sauteed with shrooms. They also cooked the sweet potatoes - which I then made into a sweet potato casserole topped with a walnut brown sugar strussel mixed together by my middle son. I made the mashed potatos, of course. Nobody does mashed potatoes like mine. Their favorite mashed potatoes include mashed carrots, garlic powder, "invisible" onion powder and paprika -in fact, my middle son won't eat mashed potatoes any other way.

The boys, meanwhile, following my verbal instructions, made the maple glaze with sweet white wine and mustard for the turkey. Earlier I made home-made rolls that didn't rise for some reason (I did proof the yeast, so I have no idea what the problem was). I made a cranberry-orange marmalade spread. The boys made deviled eggs. I made the stuffing, of course - a mixture of 1/2 herbed wheat bread and 1/2 cornbread dressing that my grandmother used to make, except I add sage to the sauteed onions and celery. The turkey was put into the oven with onions and celery and seasonings to make lots of broth - by me promptly at 8am, and we served it at 3pm. I don't think anyone else got up before 10. We had stayed up until well past midnight the evening before, having a get together and pigging out on fondue - one cheese and one chocolate - with fruits and veggies and bread cubes for dipping.

So the next day they slept in before our marathon cooking session, and when we were finished, there was quite a spread. We lit candles for "Yom Hodu" and said a traditional American "Thanksgiving" type of prayer before we ate, and benched afterwards. My husband had tears in his eyes as he recounted the blessings of the past year - and then we ate until we couldn't eat another bite.

I thought about our bulging table and all of us seated around it - and I remembering those commercials they show every year where the kids says, "Grandma, can I sit at the big table this year?" They show a family all sitting around a fancy decorated table passing around thanksgiving dishes, just like the meal we just had.

But I never had a holiday meal like that growing up. Oh yes, my family observed thanksgiving - just not like that. My maternal grandmother and her sister had some "strange" ideas about family gatherings. The men ate separately from the women. They got to eat their meal, whatever the occasion was, at the nice big dining room table, with all the nice china plates and cups. The women and girls and younger kids sat at folding tables or on the floor at the coffee table or wherever they could find a place to sit - and usually got paper plates.

In fact, I don't believe I EVER observed my grandmother at her home sitting down and eating any ordinary meal with my grandfather. My husband agrees that he can't recall her ever eating with us during any of the times he was there, either. When I was a child, she would cook breakfast, dinner or supper, and my grandfather would sit down with my sister and myself, and we would eat. She would "go to cool off," she always said, and only come eat after my grandfather had left. If my sister and I were still eating, she would eat with us while we finished up - but only after he left the table. If my parents came to town, my father would sit with my grandfather (and later my husband), and my mother might or might not, depending on some mysterious factor known only to her. But my grandmother never sat with the men.

And on Thanksgiving every year, we all went to my maternal great-aunt's house, my grandmother's sister, and it was the same way. The men and older boys sat at her nice table, the women and girls and small children sat at a long folding table in a sunroom which was set up for that purpose. So I know this custom did not come from my grandfather's family. It must have come from my great-grandmother Sarah's family, since both my grandmother and her sister practiced it.

Since my grandmother was born in the 1920s, it appears my great grandmother Sarah was practicing segregation of the sexes at gatherings long before it was "fashionable" to do so, and far more strictly. This is not, as someone once tried to convince me, an "Appalachian" custom. Big gatherings with folding tables or trays and chairs are common, segregating close family members by gender is not - we know many past and present Appalachian families who never heard of any such thing.

In fact, not even in the frummest homes we visited and ate with in Monsey (of which there were several with large families) did we see such a thing practiced in private family settings - only at the communal meals at shul was this done.

And it's something I would not choose to do at home.

No matter how many hours I spent cooking, or how tired I was, I would not miss a meal with my husband and the boys. I have always believed that having the family meal together is extremely important, and we have always had enjoyable conversations and discussions at the table. And we enjoyed our Thanksgiving, all together, in the same way. So this strange custom, wherever it came from, ends with me.

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