Today, I'm sharing a story from "Autumn Affairs", the cookbook I published this year. Special thanks to our party hostess ... make sure you click thru her icon on the left to visit all the other posts.
Family - Traditions!
For fifty-three years, my father sat at the end of my Thanksgiving Dinner table. As a child, I remember him praising Mother’s cooking and telling stories of the few Thanksgivings he remembered in his own childhood. His mother had died when he was a young teenager and life changed drastically after that. He would tell the story of spending Thanksgiving away from home during World War II and would then drift into all the war stories about how he carried a small camp stove and coffee pot to Okinawa, so he could have good coffee … if he could find coffee to brew!
When I married, Thanksgiving Dinner moved with me to my home and Daddy always shared the head of the table with Joe … Joe at one end and Daddy at the other. It is often said that young women “marry their fathers” and I am no exception! When it comes to family and tradition, my husband is exactly like my father. There is nothing more important.
The year Daddy died and would have been absent from my Thanksgiving for the first time in my life, I decided that I couldn’t bear the traditions. My menu changed. I announced that I was going to fry the turkey and make all kinds of Cajun side dishes. The stuffing was going to be dirty rice and the pumpkin pie was going to be pumpkin praline cheesecake. Nobody complained and my perfect son-in-law slid quietly into Daddy’s long-time place at the table so I didn’t have to look at an empty chair.
I survived Thanksgiving 2008, but the next year, I returned to the old menu and proclaimed that we would never bend tradition again on Thanksgiving! After all, it is the tradition that makes Thanksgiving such a special day.
The food traditions we share at our Thanksgiving table are a combination of all the good things I remember and all the good things Joe remembers about childhood! The menu is consistent, year after year, but I always try to add something different. Sometimes it’s been a new salad or side dish, other times it has been a new dessert. Some years, I look specifically at the history of Thanksgiving and add foods that the Pilgrims may have eaten … or I look at our ethnic heritage and prepare something very German or very Scottish or very Irish!
Because Joe spent almost four decades working with university students and always brought them home for holiday meals, I have 24 place settings of my Johnson Brothers His Majesty turkey china! You can imagine, however, how much I love getting all of it out and setting tables! That has long been the traditional tablescape at our house! I unearth all the boxes of ceramic turkeys, painted by Nicole’s little hands thirty years ago … and Joe’s childhood collection of ceramic Pilgrims and Indians and his treasured tiny canoe, complete with even tinier ores! I compose the centerpiece with flowers, candles and all the treasured collectibles.
I miss the old timers that used to sit at my table, but I bring my memories to life by using Aunt Evelyn’s relish dish, Mother’s favorite salad bowl and Daddy’s beloved coffee mug, brought back from WWII. In all the years that he sat at my gloriously beautiful tablescapes with sparkling crystal and china, I always put that old white coffee mug at his place setting. It was the only one he would use! I think I'll drink out of it this year!