Passing the T-Day Torch

NormanRockwellAt what point does the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner get handed over to the next generation? Is there a statute explaining the process of turning the oven mitts over to the daughters/sons so they can begin their own traditions?

I grew up thinking it was a law for grandmothers to make the Thanksgiving feast, with all the favorite dishes like perfectly-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, fluffy biscuits and pumpkin pie with real whipped cream; and the not-so-favorite bowls of sweet potato casserole and giblet stuffing. I never thought T-Day would ever change, that we’d go on eating at grandma’s house until the end of time.

But then my Grandma Stewart passed away. And then my Grandma Brickey passed away. And although I knew my mom was a good cook, I worried that Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same. She didn’t have the aluminum drinking cups that gave grandma’s 7-Up and Kool-Aid concoction that metallic tang. And she didn’t have access to boysenberry bushes to create my favorite holiday pie. And my cousins wouldn’t be around to torment.

Thanksgiving rolled around, and (surprise!) the meal magically appeared on the table—with all the appropriate fixin’s. My mom had done it! She pulled it off! I was impressed, and showed her my gratitude by eating two dozen of her dinner rolls, doused in homemade strawberry jam.

I decided I could put off worrying about traditions being changed for many, many years.

Or so I thought.

One day, my mom announced she was moving to the far-off state of North Carolina with her new husband, blatantly ignoring the fact that her daughters were Thanksgiving-disabled. Oh sure, we brought the mandatory side dish to each holiday meal; but we’d never cooked an entire T-Day banquet. It seemed our choices were either a) move to North Carolina, b) order KFC take-out, or c) eat only pie (which I was totally okay with).

My sisters and I called an emergency meeting. We tentatively agreed to cook a turkey, but had no idea how big that turkey should be, or how many potatoes needed to be peeled, and we were clueless about making gravy. We knew mom’s first ingredient was always butter; we figured we couldn’t go wrong from there.

Luckily, we had mom on speed-dial, and she talked us through that first Thanksgiving without her. We survived with only mild cases of food poisoning, and a broccoli stuffing that was quietly served into the garbage disposal.

But after mom passed away, we couldn’t even call her for tips.

IMG_0654That’s when I realized that I had become the grandmother, that legally it was my role to feed my family Thanksgiving dinner. I still can’t time a turkey; it’s either finished cooking way too early, or still roasting while we eat pie. And I refuse to make sweet potatoes. But we’ve established our traditions, and hopefully my grandkids associate the holiday with my desserts and homemade rolls. And not the overcooked stuffing or too-salty gravy.

I often wonder which of my daughters will take over the role of Thanksgiving chef when I’m too old and feeble to cook (any day now). And I wonder what favorite foods will become traditions at their meals. As our families become more diverse, T-Day might include tamales, shrimp curry or sushi. I’m cool with that.

As long as there are homemade rolls and jam, and any kind of pie, my Thanksgiving is complete.

Homemade Baked Goods = Abuse

My mom spent my childhood punishing me and my siblings.

Store-bought cookies and Wonder Bread were treats from the Gods, but my mom did all of our baking. So instead of Oreos or Chips Ahoy cookies, we had to endure homemade chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles and gingersnaps. We were SO picked on. And we let her know it.

Every fews days, she would make bread. She had miniature bread pans so we could make our own loaves. (I would make tiny sandwiches for my dolls and eat them: the sandwiches, not the dolls.)  While the bread was still hot, she’d cut us a thick slice and slather homemade strawberry jam on top. It was like eating an angel. (Probably not a good description.) But we constantly begged her to buy “store-bought” bread.

Instead of baked goods from the grocery store, we had to endure homemade oatmeal cakes with caramel frosting, raisin bars with a vanilla glaze, cherry-filled sugar cookies and soft chocolate cookies with cream filling. We were SO deprived. We made sure mom knew how much we suffered.

My friends would BEG to eat her baked treats. We thought they were crazy. My mom’s cookies were NOTHING like what you could buy in stores.

When mom baked pies she took leftover pie crusts strips, sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar and baked them until they were crispy and delicious. I’d burn my fingers EVERY time trying to get a piece before it had cooled. (I’m still pretty greedy when it comes to pie crust.)

Occasionally, she would bring home a loaf of soft, chewy Wonder Bread. We’d take slices, roll them into little balls and eat them like manna from heaven. Because we were stupid. And entirely ungrateful.

I would give almost ANYTHING to have a loaf of mom’s bread or a batch of her oatmeal cookies. She taught me (after many years of my complaining) that baking is equivalent to loving.

My mom taught me to truly enjoy baking. I’m not a gourmet chef by any stretch of the imagination, but spending the afternoon with my grandkids frosting sugar cookies, or smelling cinnamon rolls baking on a Sunday morning, brings back memories of watching mom in the kitchen, cooking for us ungrateful little brats.

And when MY daughters erupted in ecstasy when I brought home a bag of Keebler Elf Cookies so they wouldn’t have to eat my homemade stuff, I would just smile.