As hordes of Turkey Day shoppers clean out stores of birds, berries and root vegetables and brave the lines —myself among them — to head home to the kitchen with shopping carts piled high with brussels sprouts to roast, potatoes to mash, bright orange pumpkins to be turned into pies, and striped squash and dark green kale to counter the other cholesterol laden sides — I’m thinking about what all this food and family fuss means.
You know, the overly ambitious menu planned to include at least one favorite dish for each adult child, the shopping list and ever growing, and unrealistic, to-do one, the umpteenth trip to the grocery for the lemons I forgot or the extra pineapple I’m sure that I’ll need, and the impulsive purchase of a dozen chocolate turkeys that I don’t.
Ah, Thanksgiving, time to give thanks, to exalt the blessings we’ve been given, to cook, to eat, to gather. And to pare the menu, let go of the fabulous new recipe for a creamy confection, and take time to think about the annual rite and the meaning of the American ritual.
So I’m talking turkey, and not just white meat or dark, but recalling the story of the first Thanksgiving when the stern, white-faced, black-hatted Pilgrims and the more spirited, colorfully clad, red-skinned Native Americans gathered to break bread together. They were two peoples who could have been no more different, but as the long-told tale goes, they came together to celebrate their shared toil taming America’s wilderness and enjoying its beneficence, even if later, as our history tells us, their relationship devolved into conflict over the land and its bounty, and erupted into bloodshed before the two warring tribes of native and new Americans reached what is still an uneasy, and unjust, compact.
It’s easy to make blithe comparisons between now and then, changing out the stolid Protestants and the indigenous Indian chiefs, for any of the two or more peoples who populate our great nation now. Or any more of the diverse races, religions, ethnicities, classes, sexual orientations, political proclivities, they represent. Yet we can focus on the yawning divide between them — and between so many of us — or recall our remembered past as a reminder of how the Biblical breach was repaired sharing a meal around a table.
The seeming obsession with food on Thanksgiving has as much to do with feeding the hungry as with shopping and chopping, roasting and carving, steaming and creaming.
It has to do with the essential human need for food to sustain us, and the very fundamental compulsion to provide it. There is nothing more elemental than making a meal for the young, or the old, to nourish their bodies and in so doing, their spirits, and ours. It doesn’t take more than imagining a Pilgrim father gnawing on a drumstick or watching a little one gobble up a bowl of homemade soup or a guest reach for just one more corn muffin warm from the oven, to know the intense pleasure that comes from feeding others. And the gratitude that comes from both those who are fed and those who are doing the feeding for the very human connection wrought.
It is a reminder, too, of the source of our beneficence, the fertile soil, the warmth of the sun, the blessing of rain, and the work of many hands tilling the fields, planting the seeds, harvesting the crops before they reach market and our tables.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m focusing on blessings, yours, mine, and ours, more about what we share than what we don’t. On hugs and sticky kisses, on table cloths stained with cranberries, on glasses smudged with wine, on too many leftovers in the fridge, and just saying thanks for it all.