Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving? Again?

As we prepare this week to get family together, to prepare food, and to thank God for our blessings, I found myself thinking about how it is "Thanksgiving? Again?"

56 Novembers. 56 Thanksgivings.

As well as I can remember, I have never been away from the family table for this annual meal. As this year rolls around and the cooking and the cleaning and the preparing for out-of-town family begins, I think of how much I miss the Thanksgiving of old, the ones with my parents and their traditions.

I know that we shared very few of those holidays with my mother's family as they had jobs that only gave them the one day off; they would not have traveled the eight hours. I know that we did share a few of them as I have photos of us all standing around the table, all dressed up for dinner. In one photo, I am in a blue jumper -- my brother in shirt and tie -- my mother in a tan shirtwaist. We dressed for Thanksgiving dinner in those days...

What is it about holidays as we age that makes them a blend, a blur, none of them standing out too distinctly from the one before?

Maybe you have clearer memories, traditions, and experiences that make this holiday something other than a montage of hazy memories -- maybe to me now -- it is just simply getting to be about the food?

When I was younger, there were dishes served at Thanksgiving that I simply turned up my nose to. I was a finicky eater as a child, not liking the meals that my mother, who worked full-time, put together for her four children and husband after she arrived home: frozen flounder rolled in bread crumbs and placed under the oven broiler, canned tomatoes as a side dish, or instant mash potatoes made from potato flakes and water.

The sixties and early seventies became a modern era -- a time of television dinners, pre-packaged frozen entrees, and food, prepared quickly with few steps from stove to table, to meet the demands of a rapidly changing society. In spite of the stuff I didn't like, she did a whole lot of things I did: peach cobbler, asparagus casserole, salmon croquettes, or her famous one of a kind vegetable or tomato sandwiches.

My parents insisted on the family around the table for the evening meal. We waited for my brothers to finish their paper route, my sister to finish baby sitting, or for me to return from afternoon practice with the drill team.

We sat down, prayed over the food together, ate together, and when done, we asked to be excused, but not before it was crystal clear as to who was doing the dishes, a chore we shared, rather loudly and usually with complaining and calls out that someone "wasn't doing his part." After we finished cleaning up, my mother would come behind us --- bringing the kitchen to the level she wished.. as she would comment later, "it was about the process, not the product."

The Thanksgiving meal was different -- in its preparation -- its presentation -- in the expectation of it.

One of the dishes prepared for this meal was cranberry relish. My mother grind-ed fresh cranberries [with the meat grinder -- a heavy steel contraption with moving parts and a crank that she attached to the counter top to give it leverage] to make fresh relish, a dish that I found bitter and sweet to the palate. Even though I liked the look of the berry, its red color reminiscent of winter, I could never quite get a love for that relish. For her, it was a tradition that went back to her own up-bringing.

My father made the dressing [stuffing --even though it was never "stuffed" in the turkey] --- a crazy concoction of left over bread pieces [mostly end pieces of loaf bread that were saved in a bag in the freezer for months] which he tossed with celery and onion, an array of unknown spices (not even he knew exactly what he put in it] and wetted through with broth [also left over from food cooked months ago] and cooked in a shallow pan in the oven, its fragrance, as it cooked, much better to me than the dressing itself. The result varied from year to year -- some years it was good -- some year it wasn't. My sister swears that when it was good -- its still the best she's ever tasted .. and she's a wonderful cook.

Since both of my parents worked, they bought the turkey early, frozen solid, and then the bird, its flesh white and bumpy and its legs and wings upturned in the air, would defrost in the lower refrigerator in a pan for a couple of days before Thanksgiving. I hated opening the refrigerator to that turkey -- it always looked forlorn --- abandoned -- and naked, and it looked like the animal that it was --- all the pieces there except for the head.


My dad sometimes got up in the wee hours of the Thanksgiving morning to put the turkey in the oven, always fretting about whether it would be done in time for the feast. In fact, my parents always had the traditional turkey discussion every year about how next year "they'd have to start earlier."

Another aspect of that turkey that grossed me out as a child was the innards ---turkey neck, gizzards, and livers that my mom extracted like a surgeon and set aside. The accidental sight of those "parts" laid out on the counter would send me fleeing from the kitchen --- I never knew exactly what happened to those parts -- rumor was my dad cooked and ate them --- and thinking about them now gives me the shivers -- but not my mother, who was raised killin' chickens and hogs with her farmer daddy.

At the time, I remember thinking that all this "preparation" was "not worth it" to me for a meal that took days to pull together, that at the end product, I would find unsatisfying. What a kid I was -- not nearly appreciative of the way my parents worked to make the day important, signature, and worthy of my "thanks"giving.

The more memorable vision I have of childhood Thanksgiving was the home made decorations that my mother used each year. She loved to dress the table --- it made her happy to use a linen tablecloth [that she ironed] and napkins [also ironed] and set the table with her best china and silver, all in a festive way.

Each year she brought down from the attic two straw cornucopias, carefully wrapped in paper and stored in a box for the year. These were placed in the middle of the table and stuffed with fresh fruit or small pumpkins. From outside she brought in leaves, pine cones, branches, or holly berries to lay about in a festive manner ... and then stepped back from the table, foolin' with this or that until she was pleased. Amazing what she did with stuff from the yard -- a decoration tool that she used all her life for each season --- cut forsythia or dogwood in the spring --- what every bloomed, she brought in and used.

Mother rounded out the meal with the typical of the time ---- perhaps green beans or lima beans -- or corn -- or broccoli -- and some kind of packaged brown and serve rolls in its own container for heating -- usually made by Sunbeam with the slit tops -- that I slathered with butter. I could make a meal of those rolls, and I think at Thanksgiving, I used to do that.


At the end of the meal, we always had pumpkin pie, a favorite of my dad's. I know that my sister and brother also loved pumpkin pie, but I didn't appreciate it until I was an adult.

I was like -- "Ewww. Pumpkin? I've seen mother scrape the inside of that thing."

My mother made those pies the day before, and didn't refrigerate them, and they cooled their heels on top of the washing machine, which was in the kitchen, covered in waxed paper till the next day. Nowadays, I think we call that botulism.

Before the Thanksgiving prayer at those childhood meals, we would gather around the table in our Sunday best, mom's covered with an apron, and we perhaps said aloud what we were thankful and grateful for --- and then my dad, a man known for his eloquent prayers, would give a prayer of Thanksgiving for the blessings we had that year and hopefully for the year to come.

Now, I am thankful for all that -- for all they did, gave, and sacrificed.
Thanksgiving? Again?

Yes, thank God. I'll take it.

BTW:I grew to love all of the food associated with Thanksgiving. Trust me -- it shows in my waistline.

The Big Burn

In August of 1910, three million acres burned, fueled by a drought-stricken summer and whipping winds, in two days; the land located in the new national forests of northern Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

The wildfire, deemed "The Big Burn" by the newspapers of the time, threw together almost ten thousand men made up of college boys, day workers, prisoners, immigrants, and foreigners to do a job that they were not trained for --- to fight a wildfire, not that even an army trained to -- could have controlled this "monster" of a fire.

Timothy Egan's well -researched work, The Big Burn, highlights not only the wildfire itself, but the men and history behind the establishment, under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, of not only US forest land but the men who would oversee them -- the US Forest Service.

Roosevelt's idea of setting aside public land for the enjoyment of every citizen was not popular. Contested by some of the richest and most powerful men of the time, Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, fought to make millions of acres "preserved" before the "robber barons" could come in and strip the land bare for timber or copper -- or even the railroad.

Interesting enough -- according to Egan, " the Big Burn saved the forests even as it destroyed them: the heroism shown by the rangers turned public opinion permanently in their favor and became the creation myth that drove the Forest Service, with consequences still felt in the way our national lands are protected -- or not -- today."

Egan has a flair for building the narrative in just the right way ---from the prologue titled "A Fire at the End of the World" to his last chapter "Ashes" -- he propels the reader to turn the page as he tells this story of the worst wildfire in American history.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

So look.

When I returned from Florida, I couldn't believe the red maple. So look.
I promise -- I'll return to telling bad family stories soon.

BTW: I remind myself of my mother these days -- always oohing and aahing over things in nature, while the rest of you young things thumb your way across your application keyboards.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Last of Her Kind

In one of the most tumultuous years in American history (1968), two freshman girls from distinctly different backgrounds become roommates at Barnard. Georgette George, on academic scholarship and running away from her impoverished upbringing, can't believe how Dooley [Ann] Drayton, from the moneyed confines of Connecticut, shows nothing but contempt for her background and her parents.

Who is this enigmatic white bread debutante with the romantic ideals that she can rescue the downtrodden, the mistreated, and the ostracized?

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez follows Georgette's complicated relationship with Ann. After a misunderstanding of huge proportions, the two go their separate ways until Georgette is brought back into Ann's realm when Ann fatally shoots a policeman and receives a life sentence.

Coupled with Ann's craziness is Georgette's own young sister, who ran away at fifteen, only to resurface in Georgette's life, burdened with mental illness and drug addictions.

Woven into the background of the novel are the historical events of the time -- the unrest on college campuses due to the Vietnam war, Woodstock, the movement of young people across country in the late 1960s, the underground groups like the Weathermen and the SLA.

Nunez seems to have such an honest view of the time period. Within the novel, her keen eye for the details of what propelled the events that had such importance to America --- the idealism of a youth culture that ended up being too much to be sustained -- makes this book one I will recommend to others.

Wingate: I'm buying you this book for Christmas. :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sunset:: Both Sides Now

Here's the East...

Here's the West.

Back to Atlanta, tomorrow.


More Beach Music...

The east porch where I sit and do some serious --- uh, reading.

one view from the porch

another one

David ponders.... the wonders of the world -- or something..


Do you know what that is?

Not you, Laura. LOL

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nick. Santa.

This is Nick, Laura's dog.
He flunked the test to be a "service dog."
Laura says it's because he's actually smart --- cause "why would he want to help others when he could swim in the ocean, tear stuffed toys apart, eat red bell pepper, and whole bran muffins complete with paper?"
Nick: Woof.

Nick's Santa.
Santa lies mostly face down, like he's been massacred, in the courtyard except when he's in Nick's mouth.

Nick carries Santa away.
Nick and David play with Santa together -- but they are too quick for my film.
David pulls on Santa.
Nick pulls on Santa and makes this low happy, grunting sound.
It's hard to explain.
Both David and Nick and Santa.

David holds Nick's mug for the camera...

Nick also has a Spidey, whom he has de -legged for us pretty soon after we arrived.
Cartoon dog.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

View from the Beach

Sunday, November 14, at the beach:

and big houses....
cause, well, everybody ain't suffering from the economic down turn;
I'm guessing on that .... they could have given up their weekly massage.


The birds -- gulls, petrels, and sandpipers do their thang.... in flocks.
I saw a seagull peck at a petrel like the bully of the beach, btw.
He had a huge fish -- he could have shared...

Crazy wind surfer...
cause the wind was crazy.
Just sayin'.

"Bird without head."

Sounds like the title of a Picasso, doesn't it?
He actually does have a head, btw.

Big kite... for wind surfer...

Big surf, as well...

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.


Robert Frost, "Something by the Pacific"

except this is the Atlantic....



"Once by the Atlantic"


I'm so funny.
Except not.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

5:15 PM, Thursday, November 11

Summers lovely meadows green
Sylvan shades and fairy bowers
Dewy dawns and eves serene
Balmy air and pretty flowers
All these sweets will soon be gone
Fading dying one by one

Autumn breathes a colder breath
Warning us of winter's chill
Nature passes on to death
Beautiful in dying still
Cheeks aglowing in decay
Blushing as they fade away

Could there be a grander sight
Than our forests' rainbow tints
Glancing, changing in the light
Fairer far than colourd prints
Surely death cannot be grief
To that rosy maple leaf

Emblem of my fleeting days
Verdant, change, frail and brief
O that as my strength decays
I may show the maple leaf
Fair in every passing stage
Still more beautiful in age.

Autumn -- The Fall of a Leaf
-- S. Moore

I took these photos this afternoon... aren't they delicious?

Madon's Maple

Madon [May Don] is David's mother, who died in October of 2008.

Madon, one of three sisters, the youngest and the second to die -- her oldest sister, Opal, will be 89 this year, grew up on a farm in Canton, Georgia, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the products of a strict father and a no nonsense mother.

David's mother married at the ripe old age of sixteen. A lovely un-intrusive mother-in-law, Madon had what my own mother called a "sweet spirit" and a "gentle heart."
My mother deemed David's parents "salt of the earth."
Oh, she was so right.

My mother had a intuitiveness about people, and when she met Madon for the first time, summed her up with those simple, but accurate terms.
I would grow to love Madon, this sweet lady who brought me Tide, toilet paper, and other household goods as she "saw it on sale at Winn-Dixie" and wanted to share.
When David and I moved from our first house to the one we are in now, the movers showed up early, and I melted down with tears in the driveway, overwhelmed with the stress.
Madon, who had showed up to help, somehow knew how to calm me by praying over me for strength and then proceeded to do what needed to be done to get us moved.
She had this calmness, this assurance about her. She embodied those words from that hymn --"they know we are Christians by our love."
She had that inner light -- that "difference" in her that let a stranger know that she was different because she knew Christ.


She was a giver. She gave to her church faithfully and handed her grand-children money "just cause." When she had heart surgery, a surgery of which she would not recover, David dealt with her bills and then eventually her estate -- her generosity became even more apparent to him as he dug into her finances, her checkbook, her savings. At the visitation before her funeral, many people told David and me of her passing them money when they were in need, just because she "had been blessed" and wish to.

*le sigh*

When I first met David, I couldn't get his mother's name correct. I wanted to give it this French flair by placing the emphasis on the second syllable, and David kept repeating it -- "May Don, MAY Don"; it ain't French, nut, it's country."

By the time David asked me to marry him [I actually asked him -- but that's another blog story], I finally could say MAY Don.

David's got some funky names in his family, but I guess they are no funkier than some hidden middle names in my mother's family. I grew up with the heavy name of Harriett, named after my mother's sister, and I could have been named Jemima, my maternal grandmother's name, or Elvira, my aunt's middle name, or even Adeline, after a great aunt.

*dodged that bullet*

I don't know why I couldn't get Madon's name straight.

{I guess there are stories my students could share where I had the same problem -- LOL}

I think of Madon almost every day when I go outside or pull in my driveway. When Madon died, our church community group bought a tree for us to plant in our yard in memory of her. We chose a red maple, which was planted in March of 2009.

Even though we are in the first days of November, Madon's maple has not quite turned even though the fall color has peaked in other places here in the South like at our mountain house in Rabun County.
I noticed that here in the 'burbs of Atlanta, we still have a lot of fall color left.

With the warm weather this week, the strong sunlight lit the leaves on the trees in my neighborhood to a new vibrancy.

Meanwhile as of today, Madon's maple primarily holds its green -- perhaps this is God's way of showing us that He always has something, sometimes something as simple as the color of a favorite tree, perhaps, for us to marvel over --- if we only would take the time.

I have.


but I know I have it.
The time, that is.