Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cooking, Conversation & Kinship


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. 

I liked it even more than Christmas because it was at my aunt's house. My aunt Shirley and my mother struck a deal that my mother would always host Christmas dinner if my aunt took Thanksgiving. 

My mother thought baking a ham was easier than roasting a turkey and Aunt Shirley was far and away, a better cook. 

At Thanksgiving, her kitchen was a place of controlled chaos with my cousin beating up mashed potatoes while asking my aunt how much milk and butter to add, my mother saying she needed room in the oven for her sweet potatoes to warm, and my uncle plugging in the electric carving knife asking when the turkey would be ready to slice. 

Every year, as my aunt carried the baked-to-perfection turkey into the dining room, she’d apologize that it was probably overcooked and too dry. As we took our first bites, she’d disparage her hours of culinary excellence by saying, “It’s not any good, is it?” We’d all chime in how delicious it was, even though she didn’t seem to believe us.

I solemnly watch my mother goof around in the kitchen
with my aunt and grandmother.
What I loved about the holiday wasn’t just one particular dish or a certain tradition, it was the feeling it gave me. 

The feeling that I was part of a fascinating family. 

After dinner, I’d listen to my mother, grandmother and aunts talk. It didn’t matter what they were saying, I was always immensely interested in the conversation. 

They told stories and joked and bickered and gossiped and laughed. I thought they were the funniest women around. 

I was proud they were my family. 

Even though I didn’t say much, I felt included in the circle of their sisterhood gabfest.

As the evening wore on, the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes disappeared from the dining room table and desserts appeared in their place. 

Nut rolls, chocolatey Texas sheet cake, an array of Jewish cookies, thumbprint cookies, Russian tea cakes and the always-present jello salads were laid out. 

I never wanted dessert to end because I knew very soon my dad would announce, “Well it’s getting late and I have to get up for work in the morning.” 

We’d beg him to stay just a little longer but the conversation became rushed. The leftovers were wrapped for the drive home. We’d head out into the night. And Thanksgiving would be over.



All those Thanksgivings are just a memory now. My aunts, uncle and grandmother have moved on to heaven. 

As I grew up, I learned that the women of my family were far from perfect. I realized that each of them had chapters of their lives filled with pain and brokenness that threatened to overwhelm them at various points in their lives. But they were redeemed by God’s love and accepted the mercy and grace that only he can extend. 

They worked hard to recover and reclaim their lives. The scars of their mistakes didn’t define them because they were willing to exchange them for beautiful gifts. 

Gifts and talents that they crafted out of what remained. Out of the ashes and the dust. Remarkable gifts of love and generosity and hospitality. This is their legacy for their nieces and daughters and granddaughters to remember them by. 

Now my family goes out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Someone else cooks the meal. There aren’t any leftovers. But we still gather around the table. 

We will laugh and bicker and chitchat. We will remember those in our family who came before us. And each year we will tell a little more of their stories to those who come after us. 

To write new chapters of our family's story. I’m grateful for the goodness God has poured out on my life and for the extraordinary blessing of my imperfect, but perfect for me, family.

8 comments:

  1. So true about all families. Love in spite of the imperfections and flaws.

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  2. Great article and great memories. Have a great Thanksgiving, full of wondeful new memories!!

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    1. Sharon,
      I'm grateful for your encouragement and support -- what a nice gift that is!

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  3. "Gifts and talents that they crafted out of what remained" - LOVE that. I feel like I was at your Thanksgiving table...

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    1. I'm still amazed at their ability to live a life filled with love and laughter in spite of circumstances -- how I want to emulate that! Thanks for your uplifting words!

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  4. This almost brought tears to my eyes. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, too. More than any other holiday, it seems to really be about family, love (and lots of controlled chaos). Thanks for sharing and reminding me why I love this time of year so much.
    Christy

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  5. You beautifully described our family. I too, miss those Thanksgivings.

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