An untraditional tradition

I used to marvel at Granny’s Thanksgiving turkey-ing.
Golden brown on the outside and moist and delicious inside.

I had no idea how she did it, and she wasn’t sharing her secrets with anyone.

Her turkey was so decadent one could eat it free of gravy and without any of the accompanying sides. It was good enough to stand alone.

When I finally decided to try my hand at cooking the bird, I did a decent job.

Even the old gal said so herself, although she had thrown in her commentary about what she would do differently.

“Did you thaw your bird out long enough, Sug?” she asked, her tone telling me she thought I had not. “And next time, make sure you cook it longer on low, instead of trying to rush it.”

My husband only had Granny’s turkey a couple of times before she quit making it; I don’t think my child ever had the honor of blessing his taste buds with it. A deprived childhood, in my opinion.

My child only had memories of disgusting Thanksgivings.

The year Granny put the turkey in the pressure cooker, yielding a mess that the evil beagle refused to eat, and she ate, well, I am sure you know what beagles eat.

The following year, Mama ordered something equally uneatable.

The next year, I tried ordering a complete dinner that was supposed to be already cooked and just needed it reheating.

Cracker Barrell made the dinner the following Thanksgiving.

While tasty, it felt weird not to have a carcass to shove back into the fridge when we got done.

Thanksgiving, which is usually such a joyous holiday marked by eating and football, had become a day where we dreaded eating.

“I don’t really like turkey,” Lamar confessed when I was trying to figure out what to make this year.

If I was honest, I didn’t either. If it wasn’t Granny’s, it wasn’t really fit to eat.

“As far as I am concerned, we can just have the sides,” he continued.

“What kind of sides are we talking about?” Cole wanted to know.

“Well, you have to have potatoes,” Lamar began.

“Two kinds of potatoes,” I said. “It is Thanksgiving. It is completely acceptable to have two kinds – some kind of sweet potato and mashed.”

They agreed.

“Mac and cheese?” I suggested. Both nodded.
“Peas?” Cole added.

Of course, peas. You can’t have mashed potatoes and not have peas.

“Some kind of roll,” Lamar offered.

I nodded, wondering which would be best: biscuit or roll.

“What about dessert?” I asked.

“Pie,” Lamar said.

“What kind?” I asked.
“Apple,” Lamar said.
“I don’t like apple.”

“I do. Cole does,too.”

“Cole likes any pie,” I said.

“What kind do you like?”

“Pecan, lemon meringue, or key lime.”

“Maybe cake?”

“I can make a cake,” I agreed.

“Do we need anything else?” Cole asked.

“Like what?”

“Could you make salmon?” he asked.

I could. Salmon croquettes sounded better than turkey and wouldn’t take as long.

“So, our menu is a bunch of sides, salmon croquettes, and cake?”

They both nodded.

“Neither of you will miss turkey?”

Both shook their heads.

“Alright. That’s what we’re doing.”

A turkey-less Thanksgiving is what it will be. And with it, the beginning of an untraditional tradition.

“What was Thanksgiving like when you were a little girl?” Cole asked as I was making plans for this week.

“It was nice,” I said, before I gave it much thought.

“Just nice? Was it different in any way?”

What was different? I had to think. When we get caught up in our day to day busy-ness, we forget the moments that became traditions and memories.

My Thanksgiving began when it was still dark, as I wanted to get up as early as possible to enjoy the day. Granny had started cooking the night before when she got off work, and her turkey would already be a golden perfection, just waiting until we all ate.

I would sit in the den, listening to her humming in the kitchen and she would wrap me under a quilt, tucking the end under my feet to keep me warm.

“What do you want for breakfast?” she would ask.

I swear, the old gal was downright sweet when she was cooking. Something about being in the kitchen suited her soul.

“I don’t know,” I would say, knowing what she would offer.

“You want me to fix you a sandwich with the first slice of turkey?”

I would nod and minutes later, she returned with a sandwich of white bread generously coated with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and warm turkey.

“The parade will be on later,” she would tell me, turning on the TV.

Granny spent most of the day in the kitchen but it was worth it – she had homemade coconut and banana cakes; Mississippi mud cake; and sweet potato and chocolate pies. Two separate pans of dressing – one with onions and one without for me and my uncle Bobby.

It was a rare day during the week that I had all of my family home in the same time frame – Pop and Bobby were home, instead of working. Mama usually had worked the night before and with it being a holiday, she normally worked then as well, but she’d watch the parade with me.

Cousins, aunts and uncles would wander in throughout the afternoon to watch part of the football game or just visit.

To me, it was a perfect day.

I don’t even remember any Black Friday sales when I was a little girl – if there was, we didn’t go. Granny had the Sears Wish Book and that’s where she was doing her shopping.

Normally, we were still digesting the day after Thanksgiving.

It changed, when I met my ex, as I started celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

I never realized how much I missed my own family’s celebration until I got older and things had changed so much it could never be re-created. And, just like that, everything was different.

It was a simple, idyllic time, surrounded by family, during an era free of fear and worry. The news was not filled with horrors or stories that make your heart ache. Or at least it wasn’t for me, because I was a child.

I didn’t know there were things in the world to fear.

How was my Thanksgiving different?

So much has changed in more than 30 years.

The world is such a different place now, a real life dichotomy that can be terrifying and full of hope at the same time. Things are so different now than when I was a little girl.

There’s a more hurried pace and the time together is so much shorter. We are lucky to just have Thanksgiving dinner with family now, those times of Thanksgiving spanning over several days are long gone.

But there we are, we find ourselves surrounded by those we love and are thankful for.

“Not much has changed,” I said, kissing his head. “It’s still a day we focus on all we are grateful for.”

Indeed, and we truly have so much.

You can’t go home again (12/3/2014)

Dear old Thomas Wolfe may have been right when he wrote, “You can’t go home again” back in the 1940s.

Or maybe he just lived in an area much like the one I grew up near, that had gone from a charming, eclectic college town to a bustling metropolitan city with new roads and different exits.

OK, maybe saying Athens is a bustling metro area is pushing it, but when your biggest traffic jam involves a cow and some bossy strutting chickens, anything with more than two lanes seems metropolitan. It’s just a lot different than what I have been acclimated to the last several years.

“Do you know where this is?” Lamar will ask me anytime we are homeward bound to see Mama.

“Of course I do,” is my reply.

He will pause and study me for a moment.

“Do you know how to get there?”

“I just said I did.”

“No, you said you know where it is. Where it is and how to get there are two different things.”

Said the man who thinks Mapquest is out to get him lost on purpose.

This conversation arose Thanksgiving morning as we were preparing to go to Mama’s. I wasn’t quite sure how to get to the place to pick up the dinner and was trying to figure it out.

But, I wasn’t going to tell Lamar that. Surely I could figure it out.

Just in case, I called and got directions. But what the woman told me confused the dressing out of me.

“I take Timothy Road?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “To Epps Bridge.”

“Is this down there near St. Mary’s and where the old Trump’s used to be?” One of my proms was at Trump’s. Or was it a debutante ball? I couldn’t remember – it was getting as foggy as me remembering where roads were.

“I don’t know about that,” the lady said.

“I turn between the Taco Bell and the liquor store, right? Like I am heading to the old dollar movie theater?”

The lady sighed. “I am going to tell you one more time,” she had already told me twice. “You turn right on Timothy Road, at the light at Publix.”

We left early and were making good time. I felt about 99.99 percent sure I could get us to our destination without any complications or without letting on that I was not real sure where we were going.

And we did. We got there just fine. It was when I decided to take navigation into my own hands.

“I think if we turn out of the parking lot and keep going, we will hit a road near Mama’s and will get there quicker.”

Lamar eyed me. He was getting hungry and wasn’t entirely sure he believed me. “You know how to get there from here?”

I nodded.

More of the stankeye look. “How come a few minutes ago, you were all ‘Oh, I have never seen this before,’ and “this wasn’t here?”

“Well, I am pretty sure this will take us into Oconee County and I can find Mama’s road. It will save us about 20 minutes.”

Lamar knew how famous I was for my shortcuts. Once, when I was taking Cole to see Mama, I took a ‘shortcut.’ Two hours later and a trip through Gwinnett County and a few drive-thru’s, my little fried chickentarian and I finally arrived.

“You know what’s the quickest way somewhere?” Lamar asked.

“A straight line?”

“Nope, the one you know.”

But, it was Thanksgiving and he didn’t want to fuss, so he turned right out of that parking lot and away we went.

And lost we got.

“Where are we?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure. Why did we just cross into Barrow County? That was on the other side…

“You don’t know do you?”

“I think if we go a little bit further…”

Lamar shook his head. “No, we are turning around. We could have been there by now.” And eating turkey. I was hungry, too. Why did he put the food in the trunk? How am I supposed to eat a bite if it’s in the trunk?

We turned around and came up on another road pointing towards Bogart. “You know Bogart, don’t you?”

I said I did, but apparently, I don’t.

It hadn’t changed much but I didn’t remember anything. We came to the red light – probably still the only red light in Bogart. I didn’t know which way to turn. Lamar went right and pulled into a gas station to ask directions.

Yes, that’s right – a man stopped to ask directions. You make those gender sacrifices when you are married to me.

Thankfully, the man he asked was able to tell us which way to go and a few moments later, we were at that Pepsi plant, turning onto 78.

Mama was worried. I had told her we would be there in 15 minutes; that was 30 minutes before. “We are so lost, so lost,” I texted back.

When we finally arrived, Mama wanted to know how in the world we got so turned around. Or, more specifically, how does one get lost in Bogart?

“I don’t even know how I ended up in Bogart,” I said. “We were on one side of Athens, over there going towards downtown and I ended up in Bogart – how did that even happen?”

“Did you go over a bridge?” Mama asked. “Or cross 78 and not realize it?”

“No, Mama, I didn’t do any of that. There was stuff I have never seen, there’s stores, roads even – they have moved roads. I don’t remember Timothy or Epps Bridge being there. They have just moved the roads.” I was so confused my brain hurt. And I sorely wished I had gotten that chocolate pecan pie after all.

“Well, you know what I think happened?” Mama began, patting my shoulder. “You just don’t come home enough to know what’s changed and what hasn’t. If you came home more, you wouldn’t be so lost.”

And maybe she meant that in more ways than one.

Hallogivingmas (10/9/2014)

“Mama, why do they have Christmas stuff out already?”

A good question, I thought. It was not even Halloween yet. Heck, this was a few weeks ago. But there among the leftover school supplies and Halloween candy were Christmas stockings and some tinsel.

“They are wanting to get customers into the spirit early I guess,” was my answer.

It seemed wrong to my child. He wanted to make himself have a toothache on Halloween and not feel bad about his gluttony; kind of hard to do if you have perpetual reminders Santa was watching.

“Does it work?” he wanted to know.

I doubted it. They had been moving Christmas up earlier and earlier each year and so far it hadn’t motivated me to shop any earlier. I still did my mad dash on Dec. 23.

The holidays had all become one mushed up rush of blurred lines where we are told to rush, rush, rush from one experience to the next instead of enjoying the memories that are being made during that occasion.

I had frowned when I saw the Halloween costumes being displayed before school started. How can I decide between a witch or fairy princess when it’s too dadblamed hot to even begin to think about putting something latex with faux suede on my thighs in 100-degree weather?

It’s hard to choose what bags of candy to get for yourself and what to get for possible trick-or-treaters if you are trying to remember if all the lights worked on your Christmas tree.

For that matter, I was trying to remember where my little pink tree was. It seemed like Lamar had left it out – it took up precious real estate in the barn that houses bicycle paraphernalia – and I heard him murmur he had to toss it. Maybe I needed to go ahead and buy a new tree? They were already out on display.

I think it goes beyond retailers wanting to maximize shopping days in the fourth quarter. I think it has to do with our rush-rush-rush, instant gratification pace we have come accustomed to. Everything is smooshed together so we can multi-task.

Much like the way we have to stay connected on our phones, checking updates, emails and letting the world know what we are having for dinner – all while pretending to get in quality time with our families as we simultaneously work on something else.

I am guilty of this myself, which is why I know all too well the feeling of being overwhelmingly, hectically rushed.

“Did they have Santas out before Halloween when you were a little girl?” Cole wanted to know, holding a snow globe in one hand, a black cat in another.

No. Back in the olden days of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when life was wonderful despite the polyester and the shag carpet, we had separation of holidays.

Halloween was honored with black and orange taffy, candy corn and plastic masks we couldn’t breathe in.

Thanksgiving was weeks later and was basically the day of honoring football and feasts.

Christmas did not officially kick off until the gaudy green and red streamers were wrapped around the light poles in the Sears parking lot.

Around that same time, maybe a few weeks before, the Sears Wish Book was delivered, which let every child know to get their act together because Christmas was coming. Granny would give me the cherished catalog with instructions to circle the stuff I wanted for Christmas.

“And just because you circle it, don’t mean you gonna be getting it,” she would remind me.

Sometimes, things ran out or were on back order and either Granny picked something else off the list or she asked if I wanted to wait until it was available. Sometimes, I waited. Some things were worth the wait, even if they were for Christmas.

No Black Friday, no Cyber Monday. There wasn’t Amazon drones to deliver, it was real people you’d see bringing the boxes in to the counter. And dangit, it all started in December. We pretty much considered the days after Thanksgiving to be the days we digested – not the days we strove to see how much money we could save by spending oodles at ungodly hours while fighting strangers for Elmo dolls and things we didn’t need.

And somehow, despite the lack of early displays urging us to “believe” and “celebrate,” those memories were special. Simpler, and not memorialized on Instagram and heaven help – Granny didn’t even get a recipe off Pinterest – but they were far more meaningful.

family halloween pic“I want Halloween to be Halloween, and not crammed into Christmas,” Cole said, putting the snow globe back. “Halloween is about candy and magic; Christmas is about Baby Jesus and believing. I can’t keep my holidays straight if they have everything out at once. I want to remember Halloween for what it is, not get everything confused.”

I agreed.

“You don’t think they would lump them all together, do you?” Cole wondered.

“Nah,” I said. “Besides, it’s too long to put Happy Merry Hallogivingmas on a card. Hallmark would have a heck of a time marketing that.”

Unless they could lump Easter in there, then that may be another story.

photo: The family celebrating Halloween, 2009. Cole was going as The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, complete with blue blankie and a Snoopy.