By Harriet P. Gross
Ah, Thanksgiving! A holiday for us all!
Some say that we Jews originated Thanksgiving, long before Pilgrims and Indians. Isn’t Sukkot, with its homage to fall hospitality, the prototype of what’s now considered a classic American celebration?
But every people, every culture, every faith, has a Thanksgiving of its own. Try this bit from Buddha:
“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die, so let us all be thankful.”
Well, that’s kind of a minimalist Thanksgiving. Not to belittle or make light of Buddha, but I think we can do at least somewhat better than this, can’t we?
Maybe Thanksgiving is a man’s holiday, since the guys get to laze around, drinking beer and watching football, while the women are whisking around the kitchen, getting the feast ready for the table. Or maybe Thanksgiving is a woman’s holiday, since stuffing a turkey in thankful testimony to those Indians is better than sitting in front of the TV and watching a bunch of Cowboys. Or perhaps, in these days of extreme political correctness, the men will leave their flat-screen long enough to deep-fry a turkey in the backyard.
Well — let’s think about that turkey for a minute. Or a couple of turkeys. The great comedienne Gracie Allen had this recipe for her Thanksgiving bird: “One large turkey. One small turkey. Take the two turkeys and put them in the oven. When the little one burns, the big one is done.” That was probably the prototype of a much later “recipe” that called for stuffing a turkey with unpopped popcorn and waiting for the firecracker results.
Remember Julia Child? I recently visited her kitchen, now on display in Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian National Museum of American History. What could be more historic than the famous televised cooking show episode in which she dropped a turkey on the floor while pulling it from the oven, then picked it up, put it on a platter, and called her behind-the-scenes underlings to “take it away and bring in the other bird”? A second turkey waiting in the wings? Sure! (I once had a flying pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, when I pulled out the oven rack with far too much enthusiasm, but I had to bake another one.)
All this concentration on cooking may be a bit misplaced. The Pilgrims and Indians shared food as a way of giving thanks to God for survival, at least, if not for plenty. They were blessed, they were blessing, they were asking for continued blessings. That’s the spirit I like. That’s why I particularly like this lovely little Thanksgiving piece I found last year in Skirt!, a magazine for women in America’s South, and saved to share with you today:
“Bless the month of November with a turkey in the oven. Bless the penny found on the ground, and the minutes left on the parking meter. Bless the lowly turnip, married to sweet cream butter….
“Bless the sweat on your yoga mat. Bless yesterday’s mistakes before you let them go. Bless canned tomatoes on a frozen winter night. Bless the spatula that flips the egg over easy, so tenderly. Bless the taken-for-granted light in the refrigerator.
“Bless the goose that gives up its down. Bless the bulbs dreaming underground. Bless the lesson learned the hard way. Bless the tooth that didn’t need a filling. Bless every part of the pumpkin, from its toothy Halloween smile to its toasted seeds.
“Bless the extra leaf in the table for being needed. Bless the people who know your name, and the heart’s GPS that finds the road home….”
I treasure an old newsprint clipping of my daughter, dressed up as that quintessential kindergarten Pilgrim — some school function that made the local paper back when she was 5 years old. Now she’s pushing 10 times that, and I have a newer picture in my mind’s eye: She hasn’t traveled the heart’s road to my home for today, nor I to hers, but I can see her in her own kitchen, a thousand miles away, stuffing the holiday turkey for her little family there while I’m baking the pumpkin pie for mine here. She learned a few tricks in my kitchen, like being gentle with the oven rack when the baking’s done.
Bless the loving Thanksgiving telephone call!
By Harriet P. Gross