Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All American

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and the three matriarchs of the family are busy slicing, dicing, stuffing and baking. My mother is queen of the turkey. Tonight she is lovingly marinating the bird and preparing her now famous stuffing. The entire time she’ll worry the bird is much too big and there’s no way any group of human can nor should consume this amount of food. My dad awaits his cue; it arrives tomorrow. He is the mashed potatoes man. Simple, easy, yet those creamy peaks of buttery goodness are his domain and he knows he has us salivating from the moment he brings the dish to the serving table.
Meanwhile, 5 floors down in the same building, my sister will be creating her signature contributions to the table – the world’s most exquisite pies. Pecan, apple, pumpkin. A little something for every taste, she has perfected these sweet offerings over the years to the point where no other pie can compare. And woe to whoever should try!
A few minutes away, I am in my kitchen watching the cranberries jump and split, thinly slicing shallots, stuffing sugar pumpkins… I am the side dish lady. Saddled with two vegetarians in my household (who of course bring along other vegetarians on this fowl centered holiday) I was delegated the vegies. Each year I try something a little different, hoping to sate the obvious loss those vegetarians must feel upon seeing the gloried golden bird arrive.

What’s funny about this family scenario is that Thanksgiving was a complete mystery to my family of origin when I was growing up. It was labeled as “an American holiday” by my parents, and they seized the wonderful advantage of not having to work their assorted jobs and shifts but that was it. Turkey? Heavens no! That was for Christmas! Cranberries? Mija! They look poisonous.
At some point, either my sister or I insisted on something special for the holiday and my parents began taking us to Wan Q for dinner on Thanksgiving.
A Polynesian themed restaurant, you couldn’t have designed a kitschier stereotype of all things Asian. But they had cloth napkins. You ordered from a menu, family style. And so it was deemed “our special Thanksgiving”.

We did this for many years until one year my mom’s baby sister, who had come to live with us and was a freshman in college, somehow convinced my parents to join the millions of other November-turkey and cranberry eaters of the country. I don’t really remember that meal. What I do remember was missing the fake tiki torches and canned ukulele music from Wan Q. I missed the fried rice (hold the peas and carrots ‘cause who puts that in their arroz con pollo?), the crispy won tons with unnaturally red sweet stickiness and the mysterious fortune cookies.

Tomorrow afternoon we’ll gather around my parents’ dining room table; my sister and I contributing not just our culinary offerings, but husbands to help in the cleanup; my 98 year old father in law missing his beloved wife; my daughters with their special friends. We will all hold hands as we say grace, thankful for another year of blessed bounty and unity.

And I will be remembering Wan Q and a season of thankfulness in a strange land.