Thanksgiving Wishes

Bill and I baked pies yesterday—two pumpkin and one apple.  That means the holiday season is officially upon us.  Today we’ll brine the turkey, make the cranberry/orange relish, and cook the bullion for the turkey gravy and dressing.  We’ve broken the jobs down into bite sized, manageable bits.

In the course of the year, I’ve heard from readers whose lives have been disrupted one way or another.  Some are making their way into the holiday season on their own for the first time in years having lost a spouse to death or divorce.  Some have lost homes to hurricanes or to the devastating fires and now possible flooding in California.

I remember that first holiday season after I divorced my husband. Money was tight. The kids and I made flour and salt cookie-cutter cookies to decorate and hang on the tree along with popcorn strung on dental floss. Surprisingly enough, those decorations lasted for more than five years. The last time we used them was Christmas 1985, the year Bill and I married and my kids and I moved to Bellevue. The next year when it was time to decorate, we discovered that a mouse had found our treasure trove of ornaments and all of the flour-based ornaments and the popcorn had gone AWOL. So out of a tough time comes an enduring memory that makes me smile as I’m telling it.

That same year, 1980, the kids and I hosted my family’s traditional L’il Jul Aften at our home in Phoenix. My daughter was in second grade. When I told her she was staying home from school to help me make lefse, she was worried that she might get in trouble. “Look,” I told her, “generations of Mexican mothers have kept daughters home from school to make Christmas tamales. This is the same thing.” Our homemade lefse wasn’t exactly built to specifications. They’re supposed to be round. Ours definitely weren’t that. We said they were “ugly but honest.”

The day of the party, the buffet was served partially in the kitchen and partially in the laundry room. That was where the counter space was, but I didn’t hear any complaints from the guests about the quality of the food. Well, wait, there was one complaint. I served eggnog, doctored with some rum I found my former husband had left hidden in a cubbyhole when he left the house. Evidently it was rum with a lot more kick than anybody was expecting, and one round of egg nog was more than enough.

By the way, here’s a word of solidarity with those of a certain demographic who occasionally have difficulty recalling simple words. One Christmas season, my friend Alice called to see if there was anything I needed from the store. I wanted egg nog, but the words had suddenly fallen out of my brain so I blurted out “holiday milk.” And that’s what we’ve called it ever since.

One of our first Thanksgivings in Seattle was the occasion of a windstorm, strong enough that the power went out in most of the suburbs. The power cables in downtown Seattle were underground, so we didn’t lose power. Some of our friends from the burbs brought their raw turkeys to cook in our high-rise, and we had a makeshift potluck Thanksgiving in the party room.

So here’s my advice for this year’s holiday season. Do what you can, let go of what you can’t. It’s okay to make new traditions when the old ones hurt too much to face. And remember, this year’s disaster will be the source of laughter years from now. Yes, my first mother-in-law, whose stuffing will be served with our turkey tomorrow, really did have a bit too much holiday cheer before dinner one year, and she really did drop the turkey on the floor. My father-in-law carved off the skin, and we ate the turkey anyway. (Isn’t that what skin is for?) Both of them have been gone for decades, but I’m still smiling about that.

So even in tough times, I’m wishing you pinpoints of light in the darkness.

And whatever you do, keep that bird on the platter.