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In My Own Words

Thanksgiving Stories

Katherine R. Au

November, 2009

It's the beginning of the holiday season. The beginning of my hearing people saying, "oh, I shouldn't eat another bite," but watching them eating that other bite anyway. November is the month with Thanksgiving as the designated holiday, and Thanksgiving is the holiday that reminds me to give thanks. It's not that I don't give thanks regularly - my nightly prayers include giving thanks, but it is around the holiday that I think more about what I am truly thankful for. Family, friends, and the time spent with both are what I give the most thanks for. I often think that my time spent with friends and/or family will be the 'perfect' situation. We gather, we eat a perfect meal in November, we depart only thinking of our time together as being like an episode of "Leave it to Beaver." But I, like everyone else I know, am actually a human living a real life and not one scripted on a television show. So, although I wouldn't trade any one single Thanksgiving for another, some of them have held more interesting episodes than others. These are some of the episodes that all families share.

Ever since I can remember Thanksgiving for me has been spent with my father's family in Georgia. My parents and I would drive down on Wednesday and arrive by dinner time Wednesday night. All my family would gather for a light dinner and then go to bed early. Thanksgiving was the day to spend from sunup to sundown with family, and in between sunup and sundown was a full Thanksgiving dinner consisting of turkey with all the trimmings, multiple vegetables, mashed potatoes, bread, and several desserts.

Thanksgiving morning was filled with a flurry of preparation. My grandmother lived across the street from my Aunt and Uncle's house, and dinner was always had at my Aunt and Uncle's since they had a larger dining room and living room. My grandmother would get up with the sun and start cooking green beans and the other vegetables - save for the fried okra and creamed corn. My aunt would start cooking the turkey and get ready to do the corn and okra. I know there are those that love 'al dente' vegetables, but I'm a true southern woman and I grew up eating and loving green beans that were cooked for hours with fatback and bacon. Thinking about my grandmother's green beans still gets my mouth watering, but my knowledge of what's healthy makes me grateful for the changes made in my family's traditions over the years. My family has since changed the green bean cooking procedures, but I still miss the flavor of my grandmother's beans. There was nothing like beans cooked for the same amount of time as the turkey.

Speaking of turkeys, my mother told me a story from when she and my father were young and just starting out. They couldn't afford a whole turkey, so they purchased one through the El Monte Rabbit Company in California. They purchased a 'parts missing' turkey from the company. Their turkey wasn't as bad as others - it was whole except for the fact that its legs were half off. My parents were just thankful that they were able to get a turkey and weren't concerned with the fact that half of the legs were missing. They cooked the turkey, they enjoyed the turkey, but my mother still remembers that during the cooking process the legs ended up standing straight up and looking like a very odd bird when it came out of the oven.

My mother also shared another Thanksgiving story from when both my parents were in graduate school. They were living with another couple in Wrightwood, CA, and decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner for others whose families were too far away. Dinner was hosted and all was in order. The turkey was ready, the vegetables were ready, and then suddenly everyone realized the gravy was not. In the course of a few minutes about five women converged in the kitchen to prepare the gravy. The gravy was prepared by the recipe, but the women decided that the gravy was too pale. I don't know what too pale means, but I do know that the women involved were not particularly domestic. They decided that the gravy wasn't colored dark enough and therefore needed some food coloring. Food coloring doesn't traditionally come in brown, so red seemed a good substitute. By the time the gravy was designated done, my mother tells me that it looked like blood. My mom still simultaneously laughs and cringes when she talks of that particular Thanksgiving dinner. She swears it tasted fine. It just looked a mess.

My family always has Thanksgiving at my Aunt and Uncle's. It's just the tradition of my family. But, a few years ago after my parents had done a major renovation to their home, they decided to host Thanksgiving for the family. My parents and I felt prepared. We had a menu planned, and we had a cooking schedule planned. The oven had two cooking stations and a turkey smoker had been bought to cook the turkey. The family arrived the night before as usual, a light meal was shared, and all was going as planned. My father woke up around 6 AM to start smoking the turkey so that we could eat around noon. The turkey smoked, and smoked, and smoked, but wasn't actually cooking on schedule. My father decided to put the turkey on the grill. It wouldn't fit. No matter which way he positioned the turkey, the lid wouldn't go down as it should. Dad even enlisted the help of all family members. Women and men alike were hovering around my parent's grill trying to figure out ways that the turkey could be cooked. Finally, my father resorted to the microwave. The green beans were cooking in the lower bay and the turkey was being nuked in the upper. I just remember all 11 of us hovering around the dual oven. I think at that point we were so hungry it wouldn't have mattered if the turkey hadn't been fully cooked and we would have taken the consequences of food poisoning. But, luckily for us all, the turkey was microwaved to the perfect degree.

Regardless of what my stories or others Thanksgiving stories may be, there are a couple of things that make Thanksgiving for me. First, it's the food. Thanksgiving for me most always has been a particular menu: turkey, dressing, green beans, fried okra, creamed corn, rolls, sweat potato casserole, oyster casserole, and pumpkin and pecan pie. And, thanksgiving for me has been time spent with those I love most dear. I don't think Thanksgiving has ever been a perfect televised scene, but it has always been perfect for me. My family has gotten together and enjoyed each other's company over a plate of food. It's simple, but it's significant. Thanksgiving, for me, has always been the holiday when we join together and are thankful for all we are given - be it eight-hour cooked green beans or microwaved turkey. Regardless, it's all spent with those loved most of all.

Read other articles by Katherine R. Au