Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanks giving

I meant to post yesterday, and I meant to take pictures to show all of the wonderful food we ate, and the amazing friends who came to share Thanksgiving with us, but I was so busy cooking and eating that food and enjoying those friends, that the pictures didn't happen, alas.

It was a lovely day, though. On Wednesday night, Rick and the girls helped me to make an apple pie and a walnut tart (we have to have three desserts every year: walnut tart because I love it so, apple pie because no holiday is a holiday for Rick without one and because he says he loves my apples pies and I'm a sucker for flattery, and pumpkin pie because it's Thanksgiving and we're not complete traditionless heathens), and the cornbread for the stuffing. Then on Thursday we cleaned the house (our poor vacuum gets a bit overwhelmed with all of the oos from the pets that it's responsible for cleaning up on days like this), and I cooked. And cooked. And cooked. Sausage, leek, and mushroom cornbread stuffing, the turkey, butternut squash, and mashed potatoes. Zucchini with bay leaves. I have two friends who come every year -- one of them has an eastern European Jewish background and brings stuffed cabbage; the other is from Bombay and brings cranberry chutney (I tell you, I hated cranberry relish until she came and brought this the first time -- I LOVE this stuff!). Layers of food traditions on the table. We also had a family of friends over and they brought salad and pumpkin pie. All in all, we were well taken care of. My table just barely seated the 12 of us, so we were all very friendly. I hauled out our good china, which was my mother and father's wedding set, and which I loved throughout childhood, and which they therefore gave us when we got married. It glowed against the newly-waxed pine of our old farmhouse table.

I have long ago removed the whole pilgrim/Squanto hideousness from Thanksgiving (and spend every year unbrainwashing the girls when they have to hear it at school), which leaves me with my favorite holiday of the year, one which is about feeling thankful for what we've got, and which ties in to every harvest celebration humanity has ever had.

I feel about cooking very much the same way that I do about knitting. It ties me in to traditions and histories that are larger than myself. Standing at my stove, cooking stuffing and smelling the turkey roasting, I feel connected to generations of people who, at this time of year, looked around at the stores that were going to keep winter's wolves from the door, and said "let's make us a feast", and they roasted and stuffed and baked and stewed. I often wonder at this deep connection to tradition and to family history, given that I am adopted. It's not something I think about often, in spite of the fact that people throughout my life have, at one time or another, tried to insist that I must feel cut off from my past and history, that I must feel abandoned in some way, because of it. I have considered carefully whether I am hiding this from myself, but what I really feel is that, far from being abandoned, I was chosen, and in the end, the history of my parents is mine, too. I grew up with the results, both good and bad, of their personal histories, no-one else's, and so those histories are mine and have made me what I am today. When I had Older Daughter, far from feeling some deep sense of betrayal that someone could have given me up when I was a baby like her (as a friend of mine insisted that I should feel), I felt instead a renewed sense of amazement that my mother had had less than 24 hours' notice that I was coming along; can you imagine? I was barely prepared for having a baby, and I'd had over 9 months' notice -- 24 hours' would've killed me!

I thought about much of this as I cooked, and realized that for me (and speaking only for me), this is part of the reason why I've not taken the logical next step in my desire to eat closer to home, in the sense of using up fewer resources in eating, by becoming a vegetarian, instead of limited myself to free-range. When I cook sausage for stuffing, I don't see (as my vegetarian friends tell me they do) some disgusting byproducts from some poor animal stuffed into further disgusting byproducts (although I can understand how it's possible to see that, no matter how free-range the animal was), but an ingenious human response to the desire to waste no precious resources. I know that this doesn't mean that I need to eat sausage, as I have far more resources than my ancestors, but cooking as they did sometimes reminds me of why they did it, and I feel connected to those reasons. When I make french onion soup, something which so many people think of as elegant or fancy, all I can think is that it is the ultimate it's-winter-and-I'm-running-out-of-food meal. I mean, you take a beef bone, and maybe a bit of some wine and make stock, then use onions -- the ultimate wintering-over root vegetable -- in a bit of whatever fat you've got around, some stale bread, and the tail ends of cheese, and you've got a meal. How creative is that? I can imagine a mother at the end of a long day, looking around a bare kitchen and thinking, NOW what do I do? I know exactly how that feels.

So, I am thankful to have those connections, reaching in all directions: back in time, towards my family and my ancestors; forward in time, towards my daughters, who are building their own memories of family traditions in our Thanksgivings; out, to my friends who come to build those traditions with us, year after year, and to all those parents who have come home at the end of a long day and have cooked dinner for their families, and who have found a reason to celebrate as the dark nights of winter close in; to all of you who are kind enough to read what I write and to send me comments and emails to let me know that you're thinking about me. How lucky am I?

Today has been a day to sit and contemplate that feeling of thankfulness, with my husband and daughters safe and healthy at home with me, and my house clean and smelling good. I went to yoga this morning, and then came home and knitted. I'm almost done with the smaller feather motifs on Simurgh, and might be able to start the pinfeathers edging tonight (the joy of leftovers means no cooking for a night, and you can't tell me that every parent, ever, through the history of the world hasn't felt that joy!). Then I can go back and unpick my provisional cast-on (it's my first, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed here) and start the second half.

I've also been (re)reading the next book for my book club: The Bone People. I haven't read this book in ages, and, while it's always been on my top-ten list, I had forgotten just how many things I love about this book. I love the writing style, I love the characters, I love their complexity and the lack of easy answers, I love the hope even amidst the despair. It's an amazing book. Have any of you read it? I'd love to hear what you think, too.

There's also some knitting reading going on (the other day, Rick came in the house and said to me, "some yarn porn came for you in the mail" and handed me the KnitPicks catalogue. That man makes me laugh), but I'll tell you all about that (and the yarn purchase I made today in an effort to support the sagging U.S. economy -- we all have to do our parts!) later this weekend. For now, it's time to finish this last repeat before everyone gets home from piano lessons. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Bea said...

That is a truly lovely post about what Thanksgiving is.

Your shawl is coming along fabulously as well. I can't wait to see it blocked! Its going to be gorgeous!

I will now have to read your book. I haven't read it before. I'll look it up this evening.

Rabbitch said...

And happy thanksgiving to you, from the other side of the arbitrary line in the sand. That was a lovely post.

Helen said...

Thanks very much for that post. I have no religious beliefs, but I still enjoy Christmas because it's a chance to be with the people I have known longer than anyone else, and some new ones. Feasts are very important. People who complain about it being too commercial aren't doing it right, or just enjoy complaining. Lately I have been thinking that Thanksgiving has an advantage over Christmas in that you don't have to worry about all the presents nonsense, but actually I quite enjoy that as well, especially now when the family has some children again: it's good to see their faces light up with unholy joy.

And as for the 'poor animals', we should remember Miton's thoughts from Comus, beginning, 'If all the world should, in a pet of temperance, feed on pulse...' which I expect you know. I don't believe in the All Giver, but I think we should enjoy the earth's resources as well as respecting them: again, some people just enjoy complaining.

I'm interested to read what you say about feeling 'chosen' too, because I have sometimes wondered about this. Apart from anything else, it is unlikely that all adopted people would have exactly the same feelings: I do think we live in a very prescriptive age and, in spite of a notion that we are all very free and independent, people who are adopted, or disabled, or of mixed race, or 'too' tall or too something else that puts them outside the supposed norm, are always being told what they must feel about this. It's never that simple.

I read The Bone People many years ago: I thought it was very good, but I don't think I could bear to read it again. I admire your fortitude.

I'm glad to see you making use of 'oos'; I have some more to say on that subject, and on my rosewood needles, but I'll save that for later. Happy Leftovers Day.

Marianne said...

Exactly, on SO many points, reading this post was like opening my soul... doing things to feel connected... why do we love to do the things we do... ancestral memories is a lovely way to put it but it's that and so much more,eh?
Don't know why I haven't read The Bone People but I'll be checking the library system and requesting it.... Simurgh is coming along so beautifully....
Seriously, your words, your thoughts behind the words have touched me so deeply and in such a familiar sense... thank you so much for sitting down and gathering it all up and writing it down!

Helen said...

The whole thing is at but I can't claim to have read it all. I just know the bit, 'If all the world Should, in a pet of temperance, feed on pulse, Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze, The All-giver would be unthanked, would be unpraised, Not half his riches known ...'

Tracy said...

I understand what you mean about how cooking and knitting make you feel tied into tradition--I feel it, too. It's why nearly every year, I go and pick more apples than I can comfortably carry and spend a whole day or two canning them. I don't NEED to preserve fruit to get through the winter, but it helps me feel connected to do so--and grateful that I don't have to do this with all of my food in order for my family to survive!

I'm also grateful that while my knitting connects me to the generations of women and men who knit, I don't have to do it for everyone in my family in order to stay warm in the winter. I can choose more frivolous projects--yet another scarf, a pair of fingerless mitts, a new tam--knowing that the only thing standing between my children and frostbite is NOT what I can produce off my needles.

Family history is such a complicated thing, for so many reasons. My parents had been married for 18 years when I came along, and yet I spent much of my childhood in a sense of wishful denial, hoping against hope that my mother had had some kind of romantic affair with a tall, dark stranger instead of my father (who had little interest in any of his children until it was really too late). And although I did develop an interest in genealogy (but only on my mother's side), I found that after I married, I was just as interested in my husband's forebears as my own. I long ago learned that we all have two kinds of family--the kind of family we're given, and the kind of family we choose. It sounds like you have a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming family made of all sorts of people who have chosen you. How wonderful is that!

Stell said...

what a lovely explanation of the meaning of being together and how tradition plays a part in that. The adoption thing is weird, my brother was adopted and yet he is the one I feel the most akin to, not my 'blood' sister.I'm intrigued by the notion that you were expected to feel anger for being given away, rather than joy at being a gift for this couple? We always felt my brother was one of us, and were very annoyed by my Nana who exempted him on the grounds he wasn't 'blood'.

WandaJ said...

Great post, again lots of good thinking fodder.

I don't enjoy cooking but do enjoy the feeling of continuity that doing things I know have been carried out by past generations.

Way back in Psychology we studied how environment can be so much more influential than biology. That's simplifying a huge, complex subject. But fortunate is the child reared by loving parents regardless of the beginning. Far better off, even if never knowing who the biological links are, than kids raised by blood parents who make life hell on earth for them.

By the way, Barbara Kingsolver tells of how raising animals is much more responsible for the environment and food chain than trying to raise grains in some parts of the world. The goat eats shrubs unfit for human consumption, their droppings in turn produce a more fertile ground allowing better ground cover/crops. They provide humans with milk, cheese, continuing offspring and meat. Fascinating.

Carrie K said...

That's a very thoughtful post.

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