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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Thanksgivings Remembered

This is a repeat from 2009 — 

One of the things I never thought I’d be thankful for, but time changes many things (including our minds and hearts), is my unconventional family, especially at Thanksgiving.  Having a somewhat wacky family means no true annual traditions and seeing that Norman Rockwell imagery of an American Thanksgiving a thousand and one times growing up, I disliked that.  A lot.  But over the years, I have come to appreciate my lifetime of unusual, but incredibly memorable, Turkey Days.

In 1993, when my oldest child was a year old, four of us – baby Shaina, her father, her Bubbe and I – all went to New York and ended up on Ellis Island, the landmark of the American immigration experience, on a frosty Thanksgiving morning.  Except for a couple of security guards, we were the lone inhabitants of the port that has had over 12 million people pass through the doors on their way to becoming a citizen.  When we arrived, the thermometer read 32 degrees and not many people had ventured out into the cold.  Those that did seemed to be huddled for warmth along the Macy’s parade route.

Thinking of that day at Ellis Island gives me goosebumps, and not just at the thought of the cold (California pansy that I am).   I can still close my eyes and imagine standing alone on that historic spot, surrounded by the ghosts of thousands of people crammed into that small space, all with the heightened anticipation of finally coming to America.  It’s an overwhelming emotion.

That particular day ended with a terribly non-traditional meal of Turkey Osso Bucco in a sparse, dimly lit, oh-so-painfully-chic, Manhattan restaurant.  Whaddaday.

Back in my salad days, one of my best friends and I met up for Thanksgiving dinner at a goofy fish themed restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles.  We sat in a red leather banquette, two young women giggling madly because my friend had to help me count out what change I had brought to pay the bill.  I was a sometime back-up, studio singer/actress/waitress starving in L.A. and my monthly food budget was mostly for ramen noodles, not restaurant fare.  I literally had to break a piggy bank to fund that holiday meal.  To this day, it is still one of my most favorite Turkey/Fish Day memories.

Having only hosted a handful of dinners in my own home, one of the best ever had to be the year we invited the Shea-McFadden household to join us as we entertained our children’s honorary Grandmother “Anneliese”.  With the Irish household proudly contributing a long-standing traditional dish of mashed turnips from their family history to the menu, our German guest complained loudly (and unabashedly) about her disgust for turnips – having been forced to eat them during World War II, “digging them out the streets of Berlin.”  While I understood the painful memories that the side dish brought up for Anneliese, I was also thankful that my friends managed to live up to a great Gregory Peck quote about having “…that stubborn streak, of the Irish” because they went on eating their beloved roots, never seeming to mind the non-stop verbal abuse of their offering.

Despite decades of non-traditional holiday gatherings, one tradition has remained the same: the meal must consist of turkey – in some form or another, but usually just good old fashioned turkey.  Over the years, I have prepared turkey in various ovens here and there all around the map.  For a while, we would drive to Las Vegas to break bread with friends Rosa and Michael Tulane.  Michael was the man responsible for opening one of the first Las Vegas gym-to-the-stars on the top of the Riviera Hotel (at the time, the tallest building in Nevada) when it first opened in the 1950’s.  When Michael was young, he was an amazing chef and would cook for large parties in a moment’s notice, but as he got older he let the rest of us take over the kitchen duties, instead regaling those of us manning the mixers and ladles with stories of his days training the likes of Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Alan Ladd and Vera Krupp — the woman who owned the famous 33.19 carat Krupp diamond before Liz Taylor did.  Michael would roll his eyes and wring his hands recalling how paranoid he was as Vera would “just dump it” on his desk as she made her way to the masseuse.

Sometimes I envy the people that have their annual November dinner like clockwork, with the same faces and flavors around the table and the familiar hugs of those they love.  It is fascinating to me to imagine the years and years of solid family history that seasons such a meal, making it all the more sweet and savory.  I could take a cheap shot here to mention our nuts and flakes … but, it’s too easy.

My family has no true north to steer by, when it comes to family holidays.  Strangely enough, the one concrete tradition we do have is an event that came to be about 20 or so years ago: the annual heated cranberry sauce cook-off.  Picture two women standing over the stove, loudly arguing about the most delicious way one can prepare cranberry sauce.  It doesn’t really matter what the ingredients are (for example, it could or could not have oranges), the main focus is on whether you make yours with or without sugar.  Their lines are firmly drawn and neither party will budge by adding or deleting this essential, or evil (depending on your mindset) element.  They then spend the entire meal comparing notes and taking votes on whose cranberries are tastiest.  Each year, invited guests diplomatically praise both women fairly evenly.

My children will grow up having a hodgepodge of holiday memories, each one different than the year before and I wonder how it will color their images of the All American experience.  I can only hope that in their hearts they are grateful for the spicy, turkey bouillabaisse-like celebration we manage to cook up for them every year and the even spicier company we are thankful to share it with.  It is ultimately, all about the bounty of the harvest, and a dry crust of bread shared with a friend is a feast, indeed.

Wishing you and yours, a warm and wonderful day. xo – t.

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About TKatz

An absorbent observer's view on life. Opinions served up strong, but never bitter. T. and observation -- For tea and conversation. Actress/Singer/Writer/DJ: Words for Sale (Spoken, Sung, Scrawled) KHTS AM 1220 Fridays at Noon & Drive Time 3pm to 7pm. MWF

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