Expressing Gratitude in General
The day before Thanksgiving, my boss at The Karrot put a sign on the door which he'd scrawled in permanent marker: "Traditionally, this is a time to celebrate the harvest, and express gratitude in general. Sorry, we close Thursday. Enjoy your dinner." Both "dinner" and "Thursday" were underlined with yellow highlighter. I didn't see the sign until Saturday, when I found it stashed behind the register. It had been torn at the top from being taken down. He couldn't have said it more purely. For instance, by saying "traditionally," he wasn't being sentimental about the American myth but rather pointing out that a holiday has been put in place by the forces-that-be in spite of the initial event having ever taken place (a customer at The Karrot recently told me that Thanksgiving was invented by the tobacco leg of the West Indian Trading Company.) The point is that it is there. Tobacco companies or not, a day to be observed, governed by the principal Thanks A Lot. Standing behind the register with the sign in my hands, I wondered if I had spent enough time in gratitude.
When I arrived in Seattle, my grandmother had just finished sifting through each volume of Gourmet from the past ten years and put the ones aside for me she thought I'd like. "They've replaced my subscription with Bon Apetit. It doesn't even come close." She had a hard time moving about the house, but had made a spicy meat sauce and fusilli for dinner, with "bread salad". She poured us cold, white wine. My sister's train arrived, and there she was in her black Converse, even taller than the last time, in high school now. She was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Obama is the new black." My grandfather described the shape of the city to me ("...an hourglass"). We fought uproariously about the differences betweens yams and sweet potatoes: my grandfather and grandmother stating their cases over and over, simultaneously ignoring and becoming enraged by the other. He insisted we eat the Nutella even though it expired in 2002, and so we did, my sister the only one bold enough to say it tasted like Play-Doh.
Olivia and I slept in the little room with the big bed that overlooked the reservoir, and in the morning I had a long cup of coffee with my grandmother. The light was good and gray. Before I headed to West Seattle, my grandfather insisted on taking me out to the garden (using both his canes) so I could pick his herbs and garlic for the feast.
My mother and I walked up California Avenue that night, talking about the past few weeks. We passed a bar and she gasped and said, "Let's get a glass of wine!" But I didn't have my ID. We passed another bar and she said, "Should we try anyway?" But we knew we shouldn't. Olivia had set up the dining room so that the Cascades were visible from the seats. John had cleaned the carpets, was still cleaning the carpets at midnight. We all shared a box of dough nuts in the morning, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, after my mother and I walked slowly around the grocery store for a while, picking things up, smelling them, putting them in the cart.
I am not from Seattle, but much of my family is there. And I never go home for Thanksgiving, but a number of things led me to believe that I should this year so I told everyone who wasn't already in Washington to meet me there, and I promised that I'd cook. My mother and I watched sad, sad, beautiful World War II movies on PBS from the kitchen in our aprons. John scrubbed the moss from the balcony. Olivia lit candles in the fire place. She got grumpy, moaning around the house at about two, so I insisted she drink some red raspberry leaf tea. I boiled a pot, and finally she sat down and had some. I asked her how she felt now, and she said airily, as she wandered into the next room, "Well, I don't feel like hurting someone anymore."
We cooked two five-pound-chickens, and stuffed them with lemon and lime wedges, rosemary. I put butter, sage, and garlic under the skin, and lined the baking pan with carrots and herbs. Salmon cakes (made with fish my grandfather caught). Mashed russets with lots of butter and rosemary (Olivia's idea.) Mashed sweet potatoes/yams (we never reached an agreement) with garlic, cayenne, and thick bacon. Green beans and brussel sprouts sauteed with fresh mint and chili flakes. Spinach salad with walnuts and goat cheese, slivers of avocado, soy sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stuffing made with bread from a French bakery my grandparents dumpster dive at, plus a heap of onions, celery, sage, chicken stock and bacon fat. Anjou pears, peasant bread, and nuts on little plates. Everyone else brought pies, cranberry chutney, my uncle -- a ham. Everyone served and all of a sudden the meal was over. That was it! I thought we'd be picking our teeth by the candlelit spread for hours, but no: people disbanded to other corners of the room, the lights came on, the pie came out, the conversations be came exclusive -- and I was still left wondering who all of these strange, interesting people were. Thankful and bewildered and very full. It is quite marked, this shift from childhood to adulthood, when family transforms from something simply to be experienced into something to be figured out.