I recently heard a historian giving an interview about the original Thanksgiving. She pointed out that what made the English colonists so thankful was the awful year that had come before. The Pilgrims hadn’t meant to settle on a rocky coastline with poor soil and long, frigid winters. They’d been heading to Virginia but got blown off course and landed on Cape Cod in desperation. That first winter, they lost a huge chunk of their numbers to famine and illness. Native Americans in the area had also been decimated by a smallpox epidemic. If it weren’t for assistance from Squanto and treaties with other members of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would have been no more than a footnote in the history books.
To do something imperfectly is better than to not do it at all. I wish I believed this axiom. I was raised in the school of do it perfectly and then check to make sure it’s really perfect. I was raised in the school of what do you mean you didn’t know that. I was raised in the key of G Minor.
I don’t remember how I learned to cook a turkey. It’s possible my Mom was involved, but the story I tell myself is that she never cooked. She cooked, of course, in between working long shifts at the light company, practicing piano, teaching piano, driving us to and fro, imagining we were being followed. Upon I reflection, I remember the following:
- corn tortillas warmed on the gas burners (flip flip quick, until they were tinged with fire)
- minestrone with the beans too hard
- bread. lots of bread. she once said that the thing she missed the most when we left California was her sourdough
My brother and I learned to cook from osmosis, trial and error, and the encyclopedic Rodale’s Natural Foods Cookbook. It includes instructions for roasting, braising, broiling, frying, et-cetera-ing every kind of meat one could find in the grocery store. I started with chickens. I can’t remember the first turkey.
The last turkey before this one I shared with my roommate from mainland China and his girlfriend. Mom was supposed to come, but she called in sick — as she has done for more than one holiday since I hit my majority and started paying my own rent consistently.
This year, M’s family came to our house. I cooked the turkey, the stuffing (stuffing is my favorite), the green beans, the broccoli, the butternut squash. His sister brought her own delicious interpretation of mashed potatoes. His mother came early, made the cranberry sauce and the gravy, brought her graceful maternal presence into our home and negated all my mother-in-law fears.
Of course, technically, she is not my mother in law. She’s not even my mother in common-law — I believe it would take another seven years for that to take effect.
For most of my twenties and thirties, I scoffed at the traditional family model, bristled at the term “family values” with the rest of the queer feminist pagans. But to have eight or more warm animals gathered in my living room, brought together not by choice but by the accident of birth, people who in spite of the slings and arrows of outrageous genetics have gelled into a cranberry sauce of a family — bitter and sweet, whole cranberries suspended in a pudding made of the simplest ingredients — to have that in my living room, which is his living room, to be a part of that, was really quite an experience.
One that I wouldn’t mind to have again.
Also: she who cooks the turkey keeps the leftovers.