Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving and pass the Cheez Whiz

I think if you really cared to do so, you could recreate my course syllabus by looking at my blog. If I neglect my blog for two weeks in a row, it’s a sign that I had a large batch of papers to grade, followed by an exam to administer and correct. I think I’ve displayed the same pattern every semester. The only way around it is to never assign papers or exams and devote my life to blogging—something which would no doubt make my students cheer and my department chair scowl.

I’m looking forward to a little Thanksgiving break.

Turkey Girl, by Camille Pissarro
It’s an “off year” for my family of origin, which means those of us who have in-laws will be eating the big feast with them. I have always been a bit of a purist when it comes to Thanksgiving. I don’t mean everyone should eat only what the pilgrims ate. I mean everyone should eat only what my family has always eaten. I expect all other families to conform to my sense of tradition, and when I attended my first Thanksgiving dinner with Ken’s family and they pulled out the bottles of soda, brownies and instant potatoes, I’m ashamed to say I snorted with derision. There are certain items that must be on the table and anything extraneous amounts to sacrilege. Turkey is a given. Ham is borderline. Stuffing, of course, but it must be of the homemade variety, not from a box. Same goes for the potatoes which must be real and must be mashed. I cringe at the thought of instant anything on my plate and funeral potatoes just seem wrong. Rolls with butter and cranberry sauce (the only time of year we see the stuff). Peas. Yams baked with butter and brown sugar (marshmallows are allowed only if they are sufficiently melted and unidentifiable as marshmallows per se). The only beverage suitable to the meal is water; anything else detracts from the significance of the food. Dessert may consist of only pie, of three varieties: pumpkin, apple, and mincemeat. I usually take a small slice of each in honor of my aunt Weezer even though I don’t like pumpkin pie and every year am reminded anew that I’m not all that crazy about mincemeat either.

It took me years to get past my snobbery and respect the fact that every family has a unique set of traditions. I think I finally got it the “off-year” that my food assignment was to bring cheez-whiz-filled celery logs to Ken’s family feast and I balked at the absurdity of such a menu item. Turns out that due to a long-standing inside family joke, the celery logs are a sacred food at Thanksgiving and by asking me to bring them, my in-laws were welcoming me into the fold. Oops. I vowed never again to whine about the missing foods or mock the apocryphal extras. I’ve learned to enjoy the fact that Ken’s cousins always make turkeys out of gumdrops for the table settings. Ken's Aunt Nikki makes banana cream pie, a tasty enough dessert that we can all suspend our disbelief for a moment and imagine that some of the pilgrims had friends shipping them exotic fruit from Costa Rica. Ken’s Grandma carries a sheet of hot rolls around the room and tells you for the 15th time that you need to take another, allowing the kids to practice their best manners by saying “no thank you Grandma” instead of rolling their eyes. There are at least ten different kinds of soda to choose from and Aunt Shauna always brings me a cup of ice water because she knows I prefer it.

A tradition of love, generosity and loads of good food, enough to feed three-times the amount of guests present. How could I not be grateful for that?


allysha said...

I am the same way; a purist- that is according to the gospel of allysha :) But it's good to be able to enjoy other's traditions, particularly the in-law traditions. Happy Thanksgiving!

Heth said...

Couldn't you just make room for a fourth kind of pie in your list of approved pastries? Pecan?

LOVE the cheez whiz celery log tradition. That is hilarious.

mindyluwho said...

Those first few family gatherings with the in-laws are so awkward!

I like that term, purist. That definately applies to our family, most especially my husband. Nothing can be on the table that is not homemade with the exception of the cranberry sauce that comes out of a can!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

TARA said...

And then sometimes family traditions that have been in place for years can get all messed up when someone suddenly makes a change.

I spent the day with friends' family - where I've spent most major holidays for many years. This year the matriarch made "diet" pecan pie. (What is that?!?) All of the adult children were up in arms when they found out about it so 2 of the granddaughters hurried up and made a couple of their own pecan pies. Grandma's feelings were hurt as her pie was passed over again and again, and many harried explanations were made. Finally she tasted the other pecan pies and had to admit they were better!

Also, I about went into a panic when I get there because there weren't any homemade rolls. My friend ALWAYS makes the rolls for any event on either side of the family. One of her niece-in-laws had volunteered to bring them this time though. Fortunately they were so good that I actually brought a few home - and I already ate them!

The Lazy Organizer said...

You and I could definitely have Thanksgiving dinner together. Although last year I got crazy and made cornbread stuffing. It was amazing!

My MIL did a wonderful job this year. I always pass on the cream cheese celery logs but I load up on the deviled eggs which my family never made.

Luisa Perkins said...

Blending and/or creating new traditions is one of the more challenging parts of marriage, in my opinion. It sounds like you have navigated treacherous waters well.

I was so relieved to discover that my mother-in-law's stuffing was virtually identical to my mother's. I took it as a sign that our marriage was destined to succeed.

Theresa said...

This year I tried to make the thanksgiving meal my husband dreams of instead of my usual "fancy" flourishes. I think it went well, although the turkey took way longer than I thought and we had it for dessert. Oh, well. I was happy for the break from work, too. And there's plenty of leftover bird. Happy Holidays.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Just tonight my husband and I were talking about how each individual born on this earth comes from such different paradigms. Some have a paradigm of cheez whiz logs, others have a paradigm of homemade, mashed potatoes ... I am in the latter group, although I do like Stovetop stuffing :) !!

Happy late Thanksgiving!

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

That was very funny, whether you intended it to be or not. Our Thanksgiving dinner plans fell through that morning. We ended up at Golden Corral, which my husband was perfectly fine with and I was in tears over. Never again!

Ann Kroeker said...

I love your confessional posts. I feel like we get to walk through your emotional process, beginning to end, richer for it.

We've been hosting Thanksgiving the last few years. The guest list includes my parents, our neighbors, and often a stray niece or nephew from overseas who is in the States studying at a nearby university. Thankfully, the overseas relatives have no preconceived notion of what should be served. But I do try to honor the hankerings of my parents and neighbors.

Fortunately, they all crave the more traditional fare. No Cheese Whiz with these folks. On the other hand, they wouldn't balk at it, should someone new arrive and ask for that to be added to the menu.

But I like that feeling of being pulled into the fold that you described. They share that history of gumdrop turkeys and banana cream pie and let you in. That's the beauty of traditions and rituals--they pull us together, make us smile, bring back memories of shared history.

Cool post.

Klutzmom said...

I'm the designated pie maker for the "on years" with my in-laws. I'll never forget the year my in-laws asked me to make the mince meat pie. I thought the filling tasted too strong so I added some raisins, apples, and sugar. After 40 years, they have never let me forget it, but I still love them. And they still let me make the pies.

Jen said...

Oh my, I too am a purist! DH's family serves cream pies-OH THE HUMANITY! Thanksgiving requires fruit pie and pumpkin pie.

Their typical holiday fare is so greasy meat & starch laden its really hard on my family who is used to eating lots of green leafies, complex carbs, and lean protein. I've learned to go along, its only one weekend. Finally this year my nephew's wife insisted on Pumpkin pie. Turns out most of us who have married in have been mourning the absence each year in silent politeness!

So sometimes it doesn't hurt to speak your mind, or even just bring the dish you are craving along with the cheez whiz. Maybe someone else misses it too!

Annette Lyon said...

This is hysterical--and it brought me back to my first married Thanksgiving. Oh, the memories . . . I'll have to blog about that sometime.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Sounds like you've added humble pie to your menu. Ok, that was pretty lame. I loved this beautiful and humble post. I have had the same issues, and then revelations, with my own in-laws.
I would love to hear the joke behind the Cheese-Whiz.

Scribbit said...

I've got that impression--that I'm auditing your class. Love it.