Family History in a Meal

Thanksgiving is a holiday most Americans treasure.  It is a time for family and friends, and a time to remember all those things for which we are thankful, including all those who helped to guide us, and bring us to a state of prosperity that even now, with our current economic hardships, enables us to lead the world.  I choose to give thanks for some simpler things.  They speak to the heritage of the Thanksgiving dinner we will soon enjoy.  Our feast will bear the mark of generations, both in the fact of its existence and the manner of its composition.  I give thanks for everything that has gone to make that meal possible.  I give thanks for the family that will gather and share it, and I remember those who are absent in person from our small feast, but are with us in memory and spirit, and even in the simple recipes that still adorn the table.  America has so much for which to be thankful, but to preserve what is great about this country, we must remember to thank them all.

My mother’s family were Polish immigrants.  I am certain that their first Thanksgiving in America did not include a turkey.  They were fantastically poor, but they had no intention of remaining that way.  They learned the language, they sent their children to school, they worked in factories and any odd jobs they could find on their way to building the prosperity we now enjoy. My grandfather worked in foundries and raised his own family, and together they set a standard of hard work and of persistence that still prevails in our family.  On Thanksgiving Day, they are represented in the simple white-bread stuffing that is actually the warm heart that makes the meal.  It’s my mother’s recipe, from her mother, and her mother before.  In another generation, it was made from the heels of loaves, and other scraps of bread.  It recalls a generation when nothing was permitted to go to waste, and everything was turned in thankful service to the prospect of building a prosperity we now enjoy and too often take for granted.

My father’s family is of French-Canadian origins.  They grew and thrived in that beautiful country on the western shore of Lake Champlain.  They knew many hardships, but they worked and they raised their families in a region known for fierce winter weather but fiercer people.  My father served in the Air Force, back in the early years of that institution.  In the early, ugly days of that period we now seem to have forgotten, the “Cold War,” my father had an occasion to be stationed in one of the coldest places to which the Air Force deploys people:  Thule, Greenland.  For those who have served in the military, you will perhaps remember when the services knew two kinds of pie: Apple and cherry.  In Thule, my dad learned to dislike cherry pie.  Veterans will remember that pie had been the services’ idea of desert when not in the field, but that when gotten from tins of cherry pie filling that looked to have been manufactured contemporaneously with the assault on Iwo Jima, the appeal of a slice of cherry pie can hit rock bottom.  Never was a young man happier to return home to his mother’s cooking, and his annual favorite my grandmother would put together: Raspberry pie. It’s one of those curiosities that raspberry pie thus became my favorite, and each Thanksgiving, after the meal settles, and with a cup of coffee, I enjoy a slice (or two.)

My wife is a German immigrant.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but it has become a point of pride for her that she is able to produce this entire meal with minimal assistance and to perfection.  She’s added her own flavors to some of the traditional recipes, but in the main, it is at its heart the same foundation that went into my preparation of that first wedded  Thanksgiving we celebrated together twenty-three years ago.  My own daughter has taken those same recipes, those same bits of our family’s traditions, and has begun to accumulate them together with her husband in their own set of traditions.  Thus it is that Thanksgiving serves to remind us not only of all the things we’ve had for which we’re thankful, but of all the things to come.

Thanksgiving ties our past to our present and on to our future, as individuals, as families, and as a nation.  For my part, I will be thankful even if only the stuffing and the raspberry pie outlive me. For countless millions of families, each with their own traditions, and each with their own recipes and ideas, this is the sort of country for which we had all ought to be thankful.  To my readers, I hope you will find together your own family traditions warm and rejuvenating.  I hope you will find in the day all that binds you together, and none of what keeps you apart.  Thanksgiving is really an American holiday, but its roots stretch into our distant past, tying us together in the melting pot that has made a nation prosper, and it is through the simple values we together cherish that we are still able to shape our future.  Thank you all, and may you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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