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At My Thanksgiving Table

I can practically taste Grandma Elise’s famous potato chip crusted apple pie, even if it’s been years since I’ve eaten it, decades since she passed. Warm from the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream—the perfect amount of salty to the sweet. It was the highlight of my childhood Thanksgivings, especially compared to Grandpa Stanley’s too-tart orange-cranberry sauce and his wet breasted turkey.

It was the one thing she could do better than him, her pie.

See, he was the famous one. The two-time Poet Laurette, the Harvard Professor, the Pulitzer winner. She spent the latter half of her life wife-ing as a supporting character in his one-man show.

But not on Thanksgivings. Thanksgivings Grandma got her fifteen minutes. Thanksgivings, Grandma Elise won the prize.

For an appetizer, it has got be my ex-mother-in-law Karen’s deviled eggs. Lots of mustard, no mayo. A dash of paprika that, with the correct flick of her wrist, landed on the platter in the design of a heart.

That woman could make a full dinner from the dust lining the shelves of her empty cupboards. Her number one skill, born from necessity. Bare fridge and all, that woman infused love into every meal she made.

She’d be happy to know that her two sons will sit at our Thanksgiving table. She’d be happy to know that despite it all, her eldest and I busted our egos to keep the family intact for our son.

I’ll try to replicate my sister Lisa’s version of my Grandma Sherry’s crispy marshmallow topped yam tart, yet again, because Lisa is home in Jersey this year hosting Mom. It’s the tart that Lisa insists only needs eleven minutes of oven-time at 375 degrees— not thirteen like in my dad’s mom’s recipe— plus an extra forty-five seconds under the broiler. The tart that, when taken out of Lisa’s oven and poked with a spoon, packs the perfect crunch, right before the orange goo oozes out from the middle.

I’ve tried to make it before, but I guess I’m not much of a yam tart baking type. Even with a fancy new induction stove complete with a built-in oven clock set at eleven or thirteen minutes, yam tarts come out of my oven looking more like a plate of tree bark.

Did my dad have a signature meal he made at Thanksgiving? I wouldn’t know, because we never spent holidays with our father. I do have a faint memory of him cooking in a cast iron pan on the wood stove in his one-roomed cabin in the back roads of Accord, New York, during those summers when Mom would get fed up with us and send us Upstate to see him. But I have no idea what he cooked on Thanksgiving.

I won’t make Mom’s Seinfeld-style Big Salad since she won’t be here. Traveling on a holiday weekend has proven too difficult for a woman of her age, with her diagnosis. Mom’s salads are the kind of salads where the avocados marry the feta and fold in raw onion and the chopped olives and weigh down the red-leafed lettuce. Yuck. Salads are meant to be crispy and refreshing and give texture, in my opinion. Salads are not supposed to feel like mashed potato mush in my mouth.

Speaking of potatoes, my hubby will make his scalloped ones. Layers of white on white on white, in a rectangular glass baking pan. Creamy, three-cheesy, salty, gooey.

Not long ago, I’d never eat something like scalloped potatoes. Full-fat, white food was not on my menu before meeting my husband Jevon. But they are on our menu now. Scalloped potatoes are just one of the many, many benefits of second-chance marriages, post-fifty years old.

We’ll play my sister Maddy’s “Questions Game” during dinner. We play this game every Thanksgiving. It’s the game where my son and stepson write questions on note cards and put them in a bowl on the table and we go around, pick a card, and everyone answers a question. Questions like “Would you rather have a horse’s ass or a horse’s head?”, or “If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?” And, “What are the top three things on your bucket list?”

We’ll play her game, but Maddy and family won’t be at the table this year. They are in Southern California with my niece and my nephew and his new wife, who live there now.

And the elders, well, they’ll be with us in spirit. They’ll be in the food and in the songs we play.

I suppose we are the elders now. Me and the hubs.

We’ll host our at our new home, on this 7A frost bottom zone of West Tisbury. On the Island of Martha, on land that used to be stewarded by the Wampanoag people for thousands of years before we came along. Now, we have a deed to this patch of earth with our names on it, a fact I often find challenging to contend with in my heart of hearts.

Especially on a day like Thanksgiving.

I say, “All days are for giving thanks. Why limit it to one a year?” I say it even on days I’m grumpy and dissatisfied. I say it, even though Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.

Time to get the good dishes out from the pantry. Time to decorate the table. Time to preheat the oven, because, well, Thanksgiving does not really feel like Thanksgiving until the oven is turned on.

~ss 11/24/22

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