By: Amy Wise
Flashback to Thanksgiving 1993…Jamie and I had been husband and wife for just a few months and we were going to our first “married Thanksgiving” at his sister’s house. His sister asked me to bring a dish to share with everyone and I was so excited to be contributing to the Thanksgiving dinner. I was a little nervous because it was our first holiday as a married couple with his family. I decided to bring the staple dish that I had grown up with…green bean casserole with french onions on top. You all know it, you all love it, you’ve all had it…right?
Well, we got to his sister’s house and I proudly walked in with my green bean casserole. I set it on the table, took off the foil, and waited for everyone to dig in. After we said a prayer everyone started to dish up all their food from the table…everything but my casserole that is. So I thought, hmm, why is nobody eating my green bean casserole? This is a favorite at my house…what’s up? I was starting to get a little hurt as everyone dished up and walked right by my beans. Whatever…I proudly filled my plate and ate those beans up! However, I was literally the only one! Apparently black folk don’t like green bean casserole.
The funny thing is after that holiday meal, I was given the task of bringing the rolls and the soda going forward. Yes, you heard me…rolls and soda…pretty impossible to screw up right? My green bean casserole has been the holiday funny ever since. Good thing I have a good sense of humor! At first it really did hurt my feelings, but now I can actually look back and laugh. This was one more thing to adjust to in a mixed marriage….getting used to each other’s traditions big and small. As time went on I graduated to making complete meals for Jamie’s family…um, minus the green bean casserole!
The hilarity continued this year when my sister-in-law Niki called to let me know that the green bean casserole commercials had started and she couldn’t wait to make it. I laughed! It truly is the running joke even after all these years. By the way, a little aside, Niki is white like me. The silliness continued on Thanksgiving day while talking to my mom. She said, while giggling, ”Be sure to tell Jamie that Aunt Sal is cooking green bean casserole today.” Then minutes after that phone call, Jamie’s longtime friend Calvin, otherwise known as “T”, called to wish us a happy Thanksgiving. Jamie and T were comparing menus and T listed green bean casserole as one of the dishes he and his wife were making for dinner. Jamie quickly said, “Oh hell no!” and just started laughing! He then proceeded to share the infamous green bean casserole story with T. Another little funny, T just so happens to be black and his wife is white. Do you see a pattern here? I have yet to talk to an all black family that serves the infamous casserole.
Through the years the green bean casserole jokes have become another fun tradition that we all share as we continue to embrace the differences between our two very opposite families. Who knew that each year we would literally have comedy in a casserole!? It’s a perfect analogy for us.
By: Carol Rood
Thanksgiving has been a holiday in the United States since President Abraham Lincoln declared the 4th Thursday to be a national day of thanks in 1863. That was 148 years ago. When I was in elementary school we learned about the “first Thanksgiving” with the Pilgrims and the Indians. I learned how the Indians (I went to school in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so we didn’t have the PC term Native American back then. They were Indians.) helped the Pilgrims learn to plant crops and they celebrated the harvest with their Indian friends and shared the bounty. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was how they forgot how to plant crops while they were on the boat crossing the ocean. I mean, they knew how to plant crops in England didn’t they? They weren’t starving there, so why didn’t they know how to plant here in America?
Of course as I got older I learned how the soil and climate were different enough that the settlers needed to learn how to plant different crops than what they were used to in England and how the Native Americans helped them with that. I may have been taught that in third grade, but I just don’t remember those small details anymore….sigh…
So, Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln (one of my favorite presidents), and we have been celebrating it since then. Many families have Thanksgiving traditions. Foods that they MUST have on the table. Or things they do together. Maybe the turkey has to be cooked the way grandma cooked it, or maybe there MUST be a football game played by the family outside after the meal, or maybe the meal just isn’t complete without a special dessert. To be honest, I don’t remember any special traditions in my family. There may have been some, but as my mother so gently told me recently, “Carol, I think you get it wrong a lot.” That was a sweet way to say, “WTF???” That just isn’t something my mother would say, and “geez, your memory sucks” isn’t her style either. Now don’t get me wrong, she is definitely one to call a spade a spade, but she usually does it with a certain finesse and tact.
I spoke with my mother on the phone today, and it didn’t occur to me to ask her if we had any special traditions when I was a kid. But truly, none jump to mind. I do have some traditions with my family now, but most of those revolve around Christmas, so you will get to read about them at a later date. For Thanksgiving, to be honest, in the past 6 years or so, my kids have usually gone to their dad’s house for Thanksgiving, so Bluebell and I have used that as an excuse to have a weekend away. Last year was the first year my kids did not visit their father, and we had Thanksgiving dinner with some of my closest friends. None of us has family in the area, so we decided it would be fun to make our own “family holiday”. We had a wonderful time and we have decided to do that again this year.
However, I have had my share of Thanksgiving calamities. I know everyone has a story they can tell about the dog eating the bird, or the turkey being so hard and dry it couldn’t be sliced, or the dinner not tasting good etc. What I would like from you all, is to outdo each other with your Thanksgiving calamity stories. I would love for each reader to write a comment and tell about a particularly funny, or strange, or “uh oh” story.
I will get you started with mine. It is really the only one I can think of, but it is a doozy. One year my ex-husband J decided he wanted to smoke the turkey. We lived in Pensacola at that time, and I was pregnant with Jacob, so it must have been November 1998. Well, we did not have a smoker, so we borrowed one from some friends. It was a brand new one, and our friend told J how to use it and gave him the instruction booklet to read. We decided we wanted to use Jack Daniels and apple chips to give the turkey a yummy taste. J followed the instructions exactly, and the turkey was almost finished, and he was getting ready to baste it. The way a smoker is set up, the juice pan sits above the coals, so the juices and smoke mix to flavor the bird even more. Well, J went to baste the bird and spilled the pan of juices. All of a sudden as the oils in the juice pan hit the coals, flames shot up at least 7-8 feet in the air. As a matter of fact the flames were high enough for our next door neighbor to see them over the 6 foot fence separating our yard. Because it was a grease fire we couldn’t put out the flames with the hose and I ran inside to look for a fire extinguisher.
I found the extinguisher and ran back outside and handed it to J who quickly put out the flames. Of course a turkey that is burned and then covered with carbon dioxide from the fire extinguisher did not make for an appetizing meal, so there was no turkey that year. I think we enjoyed all the carbohydrate-laden sides with no protein. Not to mention that the fire was so hot in the smoker that it burned the paint off the smoker and we had to buy a new one for our friends. That was a scary and expensive turkey dinner.
That is my Thanksgiving calamity story. Bad news we had no turkey, good news was we didn’t burn down the house. I guess you have to take the bad with the good.
So we want to hear your Thanksgiving story. What tradition MUST you do every year, or what food must you eat, or did you experience a Thanksgiving calamity also? Inquiring minds want to know…..
For the most part my family is like a litter of cats: we huddle together when it’s cold, but we also have our fights, walking away from one another with our tails high for weeks, sometimes months, until enough time has passed to pretend there was never a problem. I don’t operate well within this dynamic because I like everything out on the table. I tell it like it is and if I have a problem I like to get it off my chest. Between communication breakdown and other, typical family dynamics, my family hasn’t always been the “Leave-It-to-Beaver” model my mother tries to create. Each of us has broken her heart at one point or another. (I wonder if that is what I have to look forward to with my son, Noah?) But this year, gathering at my middle brother’s home for Thanksgiving was different: a glimpse back to the idyllic family whose house all the neighborhood kids wanted to play at, the family people looked up to as a pillar in the community. The family I’ve missed, but had learned to accept no longer existed.
There are five of us siblings: three boys, two girls. I’m the baby. The holiday began with my sister picking up her daughter who is attending her second year at Occidental College. We planned to have them swing over to Culver City to pick up Noah and me and take us with them to Thanksgiving with the family. We were in no hurry and made a pit stop in UC Santa Barbara to visit another niece and her boyfriend before they left to spend the holiday with their respective families. We spent the night in Cayucos at my sister’s late mothers-in-law’s on the water. Noah had his first taste of winter seawater. The brisk, cold tide barely washed over his feet and he toppled over, startled, soaking his clothes. Thanksgiving morning we drove through the beautiful wine country of Paso Robles toward my brother’s house in King City where the family gathered this year for Turkey Day. He lives in the remote hills of oak trees and pristine air, the sky baby blue and clear.
Noah is absolutely enamored with my older sister. In fact, if I attempt to interact with him he swats me away, “Don’t like jugo!” or whatever it is I’m trying to offer him. So, I don’t have to entertain or tend to him; he just goes from grandma to auntie to his nieces who are old enough to be his aunts.
This year distinguished itself from any other year I can remember. The men—my brothers and brother-in-law—didn’t spend the whole day and night with beers in their hands screaming at football games on TV. Even at the height of the Jets game, they were outside in front of the fire talking. I joined them with my obligatory piece of pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Noah sat on the deck playing with the new puppy, Moose, the yellow moon spying a happy family between the oak branches.
Once we were all sufficiently satiated, we settled in the family room to watch old videos my brother had taken of past Easters, Christmases, his wedding. My older nieces and nephews now in high school and in college were Noah’s age and I fell in love with them all over again. I was oohing and ahhing through the entire retrospective. And I thought about how I’ve been recording Noah’s main events and how fifteen years from now we will all be sitting around one holiday watching him and his other two cousins his age oohing and ahhing and looking at ourselves and how much we’ve aged. It went by so fast and every day as Noah comes up with a new word –“rainbow”, “catch”, “picture” –I can feel the time passing as if I am an hourglass emptying of sand. Not that I’m running out of time, it’s just sifting away with each day that passes.
The highlight was Noah’s first haircut, with everyone gathered around. They were teasing me that it looked like a mullet so I gave in, watching his chestnut hair fall to the deck. Noah sat there like a king upon a throne as my sister cut off his locks that had grown so long in the back. Of course I kept some as a memento.
It’s the morning after now and my sister’s son has a football game tonight in Visalia, in the central valley where they live. We’re all going. It will be cold and I still haven’t learned the game. My father will be there (he had his own Thanksgiving with his wife) and I can give thanks as I did last night when we were all gathered together like a family; a second Thanksgiving.
Funny thing was, I wasn’t planning on coming this year. King City is a good five hours from Los Angeles and I thought it would be too much traveling with Noah. But since my sister was coming down to LA, I agreed to drop my life for five days and go with her. I have to remember it isn’t about me anymore. It would have been easy to stay home, spend the holiday with friends, but I’m a mother. I owe it to my son to cultivate relationships with his extended family and after seeing the videos last night I regretted not bringing my video camera.
It’s the morning after and coffee is brewing. My brother and his wife are cooking bacon and eggs, beckoning my distended belly to the breakfast table. My mom’s husband just hit the road back to Three Rivers; he won’t be coming to the game, but my mom will come with my sister, Noah, and four of my nieces. As I write this it sounds almost cliché: gathering around fires, watching old family videos, bodies lain around the house on couches and blow-up beds, the Beatles on rotation. I’m glad I waited to have Noah; everyone’s more mature, more appreciative of family. I can’t remember feeling this comfortable and grateful; I can’t remember feeling such a part of my family. I had to become a mother to fully get this, and really, there’s nothing, nothing more important in life. Breakfast, the Beatles, my brothers and sister are waiting. I’m going inside to join them.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Over fifteen years ago, my husband and I cooked our first Thanksgiving dinner together. He wasn’t my husband at the time; he was this hunky, 23 year-old guy that I referred to as my “young buck.” My dad and stepmother were joining us for dinner and I was nervous about having them meet my fella and also about getting our dinner on the table. I wanted to impress them with my grown-up life. I’d spent days paging through cookbooks and back issues of Gourmet magazine, coming up with the perfect menu (albeit one that could easily feed twenty-five people.) I planned to make everything from scratch – from broth to biscuits to pie. My planning left me with a grocery list about a mile long and a sheaf of recipes the thickness of a small paperback book.
I started cooking two days before T-day, filling the kitchen of my small apartment with amazing smells. I prepped and pre-prepped and then realized that most of the big stuff would need to be done on the actual day — almost exactly when I would be retrieving my parents from the crowded airport. (Timing has never been my strong suit.)
This is when my fella, that young buck, stepped in. He arrived early and took charge of my kitchen. He prepped the turkey and peeled potatoes. He baked the little pull-apart rolls with the poppy seeds on top; he mashed the yams. While I drove across the city to pick up my parents, this boy made sure my house would be welcoming and warm and filled with the aroma of roasting turkey.
We have cooked many, many, many dinners together since. There have been years when we’ve spent days pulling together a menu and slaving over brandied tarts and poached miniature pears and there have been years like the one when we had my four week-old son, when it was all we could do to throw the bird in the oven and mash some potatoes.
This year, we’ve spent less time planning our menu and more time just anticipating being together. It’s gotten easier and less stressful. We aren’t daunted by the idea of a big bird and a bunch of guests. We have loosened our (admittedly tight) control on the menu to allow for a kind of potluck. Instead of my usual ream of paper, I have one gravy-stained note card. On it, written in my husband’s almost illegible handwriting, is the recipe for our first turkey together. I give thanks for him, for our children, for our life together. I give thanks for the chance to share a meal with family and friends.
By: Tosha Woronov
Thanksgiving is upon us. I love it. A holiday centered around comfort food, and no gifts to buy save for a decent bottle of wine.
Thanksgiving is also a time for little kindergarteners all around the country to learn the meaning of gratitude, and also how to share with a pilgrim.
But I want to know who came up with the stellar idea to humanize the turkey. Tom Turkey and gobble gobble and a tiny black hat on a beautiful, fat, smiling turkey with rainbow-colored feathers and big happy eyes. Who taught children to lay their hand flat on paper, trace around it, add a wattle, color in the fingers, give it a big shit-eating grin? Voila! You made a turkey! Isn’t that cute? Who decided plush turkeys would be nice –scattered throughout the Thanksgiving books in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble? Let’s show how really f-ing cute turkeys can be! Here, kid, take this fluffy turkey home with you, christen it a silly, implausible name, sleep with it. In a few weeks, your dad will rip out his insides and roast him in the OVEN! Delicious!
Just before lights out tonight Leo asked what our plans were for Thanksgiving. (He’s like me; he needs to know what’s up.) I told him our plans to go to his cousin Zach’s and that his “Aunt” Julie, not Daddy, would make the turkey this year.
And then all hell broke loose.
We can’t eat the turkey!! (tears) No! I will NOT eat the turkey! (more tears) I don’t want him to die! (huge tears) He can’t DIE!!! (uncontrollable tears) YOU better not eat it either! (pissed-off tears)
Vegans, veggies, animal rights activists – yes, this is your moment to smirk. I get it. The moment is not lost on me. But my kid doesn’t eat much. He loves his animal proteins and sorry – if I could get him to eat seitan and black beans, I would. So this realization of his is unfortunate, or let’s just say, untimely.
He does not eat mashed potatoes. He only eats his green beans raw. He’d rather die than try stuffing. He does not understand at all how we can call pumpkin pie “dessert”. Yes, he’ll have to get over it and become a more adventurous eater. But not on Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday. I don’t want to deal with this now. I want him, dressed in his “handsome” clothes, to sit down and eat the turkey and the biscuits (I’ll sneak him a few raw carrots and green beans), and enjoy himself, so mama can enjoy herself and the wine she brought.
I vacillated about telling him, “you know, Peanut, bacon comes from pigs – cute fat pigs, and steak comes from cows, which we adore –adorable cows.” But then again, he knows this already. (In fact, he happily ate a turkey sandwich for lunch today.)
No, it’s the lethal (ha!) combination of learning – kindergarten-style – about Thanksgiving and the cute-ifying of that holiday’s emblematic dish that has caused this problem. We don’t dress up pigs or glue googly eyes onto geese before Christmas and we sure as hell don’t eat elves (I hope to fuck not!).
I did end up telling him, because I’m a horrible mother and it was late and the crying was going on too long and because I would never, ever actually kill a turkey myself (which he seemed to think I was intending to do): “The turkey’s already dead, babe.” Yep, lots and lots of dead turkeys in the grocery store. In all the grocery stores. In all the cities. All over the country. Dead turkeys everywhere.
I’m thinking about teaching him this “traditional” holiday song (??), which I found online. (I want to spend Thanksgiving with the crazy-happy family that belts this out each year.) I figure by singing this with him everyday for the next 3 weeks I can undo some of the damage done by his school and the damn retail industry. (Foster the kid’s teeny weeny wicked side.)
O turkey dear
O turkey dear
How lovely are thy feathers
O turkey dear
O turkey dear
There could be nothing better!
We celebrate Thanksgiving Day
By putting your carcass on display.
O turkey dear
O turkey dear
You thought we were friends who came to greet you
O turkey dear
O turkey dear
We gathered here to eat you!
(There’s more but it gets even weirder – too much so even for me.)
In closing, I have a big favor to ask:
Mr. President, I know you have way too much going on, and it really sucks having just lost control of the House and all, but would you mind pardoning two turkeys this year? We are no longer allowed to eat ours, anyway.
By: Brandy Black
I cooked my first turkey this year. This is a big deal coming from an ex-vegetarian with a flex-a-tarian wife. We screeched and screamed our way through the prepping stages and I think I washed my hands 100 times- they are shriveled and dry now, but…. the turkey was a success. Or at least my guests didn’t complain. So I do believe the basting every 20 minutes for 4 hours (yes it was 17 pounds) was worth it.
We also started our own family tradition. Ordinarily the “Black family” always find snow the day after Thanksgiving. We will sled or ski or just sit in a lodge and sip cocoa, but we are determined to seek the cold white fluffy stuff that makes you feel like the holidays are here. This is especially important for us Californians who can only rely on synthetic snow to boost our Christmas spirits. So…the Black-Howards (Susan, Sophia and me) have continued this tradition and have this year, upped the ante…Disneyland! It wasn’t intentional. We actually got tickets as an extended activity from a wedding we attended on Friday. We almost skipped it but the bride (who was beautiful at the wedding-congrats Amy) convinced us that Disneyland would be decked out with holiday joy. She was right! For a girl who likes to submerge herself in the hallmark holidays (we’ve gone through this before), Disneyland is the place to be. Christmas trees and holiday lights were around every corner and there was a holiday parade that ended with a perfectly suited Santa waving to my jaw-dropped daughter. It was pure joy and surprisingly Sophia couldn’t get enough of all of it. Here I was worried about the experience being wasted on a toddler.
“Ride! Ride! Mama”
“Mickey Mom. Mickey”
It was a wonderful holiday weekend for all. Now I fear my wife will never jingle another bell again and Sophia will forever carry around her Mickey Mouse balloon, deflated or not.
My own storybook note: I didn’t hit the November deadline for National Novel Month- I made it to 25,000 words but I will finish it!
On another note: My wife just launched the best children’s CD, check it out on our products page. I’m so proud of her!