Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weekend Wind-Down : : Thanksgiving Memories

Anne McAllister is not lying in a hammock like the PHS kitten this week. She's gearing up to cook Thanksgiving dinner with one hand come Thursday while she writes a book with her other hand. So life is not exactly restful and there's not much winding-down. But it's definitely one of her favorite times of the year.

I love Thanksgiving.

Other people are crazy about Christmas (and I like it, too, but sometimes I think it's too much of a good thing). Or they go all out for Valentine's Day. Or they celebrate another holiday in their own tradition and in their own country every year that means a lot to them.

For me, in the USA, it's Thanksgiving.

When I was a kid I wasn't so keen on it because it meant getting dressed up ("Why?" I used to say plaintively to my mother. "It's just family." And I still don't think there was a good answer to that except maybe we were supposed to be impressing each other) and going to my grandparents' house to spend the entire afternoon and evening with my grandfather's multitude of eccentric sisters.

There were good bits, though. There was fabulous food. There was the chance to play with cousins I didn't normally see. And there was my uncle George who always said the same things every year: "Who made the dressing? The dressing is soooo moist. Did you make the dressing, Minnie?" As the dressing was inside the turkey and my grandmother had made the turkey, it was pretty much a given who had made the dressing. And her name wasn't Minnie, either -- that was the name one of the cousins called the cow creamer pitcher. But on Thanksgiving it was my grandmother.

We always smiled about that. And now that I think about it, maybe that was the starting point of why I like the holiday so much.

It is what you make it.

It has the requisite good food, but the rest is up to you.

But the essence, I think -- and why I like it -- is that it's inclusive. It makes you a part of something bigger than yourself. It connects you -- to the past, to the future, and to the people around you that day.

There are traditions that have grown up in various places and parts of the country -- we have a Thanksgiving day Turkey Trot race and football game where I live -- and one of my boys has played football in it when he's come home. It reconnects him with people he doesn't see any other time. It connects him -- for now at least -- to people with a common goal, often people he doesn't even know.

There are similar connections on a national level. There's the Thanksgiving Day Parade and a couple of televised NFL football games. When my dad was living, those games were a big part of his day -- partly for the football, of course. But also because on another level, watching even from his own home, connected him with other people. They shared something. And the next time he played pool with his buddies, they talked turkey -- and football. He was connected.

I learned to love the eccentric great-aunts more when I had gone away to college and didn't get to see them at Thanksgiving. I found that I missed them. I remembered their stories, their eccentricities, their hip flasks -- and I understood later what I hadn't understood at the time -- the value of connection.

When we moved to Iowa and had no family nearby -- before I realized I was related to an entire county not so very far away -- our neighbors invited us to dinner. We didn't know them well yet, but the friendship grew out of that Thanksgiving. It made us feel at home. It connected us to our new home.

Over the years we've had so many people for Thanksgiving that I can't begin to remember them all. Embarrassingly, I invited someone last year who said she just loved coming to our house for Thanksgiving, and I didn't remember that she'd been with us before!

My only excuse is that I'm so often in the kitchen cooking that I barely seem to know who is there. I just know I'm glad they are.

As I cook that day, I will again be using my grandmother's recipes and I'll feel connected not just with the people who are coming for dinner but with her -- and with my aunt who made all the same recipes at Christmas, and my great-grandmother who did the same thing a hundred years ago.

I'll feel connected to Uncle George who is probably hassling "Minnie" up in heaven about the dressing. And I expect I'll even feel connected to the eccentric great-aunts who have provided me with many wonderful family stories, even if, in person, they were sometimes a little, er, challenging.

Someday I hope to have all my kids -- and the ever-increasing horde of grandkids -- around for Thanksgiving. Last year we Skyped with all of them. One of them even 'joined' us for dinner via Skype. It was a new sort of connection. A new way of connecting.

A new tradition, maybe? I don't know. I just know I'm looking forward to it.

What about you? Do you have a favorite holiday? Particular traditions you relish every year? What are they and why are they special to you?

When she's not messing with cranberries and stuffing birds, Anne is working on her latest Savas family book for Presents. The most recent one, One-Night Mistress ... Convenient Wife is a November release both in UK and US. You can read an excerpt on her website.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving from a wet and windy Wales! Take care. Caroline x

  2. Thanks, Caroline. All my memories of wet and windy Wales are wonderful ones. Enjoy!

  3. We will all gather at my sisters for Thanksgiving dinner. We have so much to be thankful for this year. My little granddaughter who fought so hard to be with us. My youngest daughter who is expecting her third child in June. My stepfather who is home from the nursing home for a while. His health is not good so we are very thankful for every day with him. We will all stuff ourselves and enjoy being together because you never know when things can change. So I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving, and a joyous holiday season.

  4. Hi Anne,
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Have a truly wonderful celebration with family and friends, enjoying lots of fun and laughter.
    From hot and sunny Queensland, Australia

  5. Thanks so much, Helen. Not so hot here, but we at least had the sun for a while today. And it hasn't really turned cold yet. So I'm enjoying being out walking the dogs without freezing to death.

    Hope all is well with you and yours!

  6. I feel like a child with my nose pressed up to the sweet-shop window - it sounds so gorgeous.

    Can you talk me through the traditional menu?

  7. Hi Sharon,
    Drop by. I'm sure you'd be welcome most anywhere! You certainly would be here. No need to have your nose pressed to the window.

    Traditional menus vary as much as families do. I suppose the bare bones menu is turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy. And pumpkin pie for dessert. And then you can improvise on that.

    We, for example, almost never have pumpkin pie because no one in our family desperately likes it (sorry, sorry, purists! Don't throw things!) We have been eating apple pie or cherry pie for years now, and for at least 15 we've been having key lime pie because we DO like that. A lot.

    In our family there's also the green bean casserole that we all have variations of. And sometimes a fruit salad, depending on how many people are ocming. And my mother always made a lime jello, cottage cheese and crushed pineapple molded salad that is really more like a dessert. My kids loved that. Lots of people go in for sweet potatoes or yams. And they doctor them up with all kinds of stuff. If we do either, we go for them baked, no fancy stuff. We always do cranberries, and usually I use my grandmother's simple recipe that makes enough to last til Easter. And because we do like pumpkin bread, we often make that. When friends come, they usually bring something that is traditional for them and so we've had a lot of really interesting, very tasty, food over the years. I'm getting full just thinking about it!

  8. Anne, try pumpkin baked in with the roast potatoes or sweet potatoes. As a savory it's delicious. It's the standard vegetable with a roast dinner down under -- beef, or leg of lamb or chicken or turkey, baked along with roast potatoes, pumpkin, and maybe parsnip or sweet potato.
    Of course don't do it for thanksgiving -- you'll be busy enough without trying anything new. But next time you're doing a roast dinner and have some pumpkin, toss it in with the spuds.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. Thanks, Anne. That sounds like an interesting variation. I did a nice sweet potatoes dish a few years ago that was supposed to have brandy in it, but I only had rum and it was very good. Who knew??


  10. Anne, with our kids grown, I've had to stop pretending the Thanksgiving Day parade was on for 'the kids'! LOL I'm with you. I love the idea of gathering to give thanks with no gifts involved. Of course, there is a lot of shopping for food!
    Happy Thanksgiving!