Tuesday, October 26, 2010


(Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy...)

Thanksgiving was not a strong family holiday when I was growing up. There's a number of reasons for that. One is that while my mother adored turkey, the rest of us would rather have chicken, ham, or that rarest of proteins on our table, some version of beef. Another was that splashing out for a big meal was frequently a hardship on Mama's budget, especially in the tense month leading to Christmas.

A third factor is that my father did not reliably make it home for Thanksgiving. He often was tagged (or volunteered, I can't say) to be part of the crew who worked out in the field through that week. Mama would be depressed and our dinner was perfunctory.

Another reason I learned about as an adult was the general antipathy toward Thanksgiving in white Southern culture as a Yankee holiday shoved down our throats during the Civil War. Most of the older folks in my family were ambivalent about it -- as children, they had grown up around folks who had once been Confederates. The actual first feast of European colonists on American soil had been prepared by our Southern forebears long before the Pilgrim mythologized version.

Once I became politicized, it was also a holiday whose lies were unsupportable by me, and I took comfort in protesting Thanksgiving, as I boycotted the Fourth of July. But that sort of choice is much easier when it actually is a choice: When you still have family, when you have other community to turn to, and when a shared meal is not a rare luxury.

This morning, the Meals on Wheels volunteer left me a form to sign up for a home-delivered Thanksgiving meal on that Thursday. Deadline is November 17th. I must guarantee I will be home to receive the meal.

Well, no problem there. I'll be here and ready to eat. But I am having a definite emotional reaction toward the idea of signing up for it.

The shame of charity, of being the kind of person given institutional kindness by strangers. (How did I get here? For so many years, I was on the other end, one of the givers.)

The idea of eating a generic, mass-prepared meal with no choice over the menu. I mean, I don't much like pumpkin pie and almost any other kind of pie is preferable to me. Plus the love of dishes prepared by folks you know doesn't usually come in the MoW wrapping.

The fact that I will still eat alone, on paper plates with plastic utensils. There will be no leftovers for late night sandwiches or creative assemblages by others under the roof with me. This is not actually new, I haven't had a shared Thanksgiving meal in at least five years, once I stopped making tremendous efforts to make it happen, only to have friends announce they were leaving town to visit family or "just needed to get away" for that weekend. No matter how close you are to folks, it feels virtually impossible to ask them not to leave you. And, even then, I did lay myself bare to the mother of one family I was supposedly enveloped among, only to have her make plans without me and simply keep it secret until the last minute, then blame me for the guilt she felt. She needn't have bothered, I blame myself first most of the time anyhow.

I do have visitors who will be here that week of Thanksgiving, one or maybe two sets of travelers from the Northeast whom I very much want to see, and I thought that had more than covered the holiday for me. Until I got the form and had to think about the day in particular.

It's a free meal, and I don't have the room to say no to that. My alternative will be to have something microwavable I have arranged for in advance, possibly more to my liking (pot roast? lemon pie?) but still eaten solo. And, I have to admit, the possible sympathy/pity of the volunteer bringing my meal on that day jerks me up short. I hear my mama's voice in my head: "We don't let others feel sorry for us." Her reason for rejecting what little assistance might have come our way during my childhood.

She was wrong, I know, but the residue is packed in around my heart.

So, I'm simply sharing what I'm struggling with. I'll take it to my counselor, perhaps write my way through it (in my books, nobody cooks or eats alone unless they choose it), and find the choice which offers the most chance for redemption. I bet there are some of you out there facing similar questions.

Lemon chess pie, that's what I would ask Mama to make. And a cherry pie for Bill, of course. With her sage cornbread dressing alongside the roast and new potatoes. Sweet tea, fresh green beans, and jellied cranberry with the can ridges still visible. Bill would say grace, roaring "Good spuds, good meat, good god let's eat!" and making his predictable jokes about sweet 'taters as "poot roots". Then some stupid sports thing on TV while I fell asleep on the couch, face pressed into the cushions, remembering how Mama always said "Wonder what the po' folks are eating today."

1 comment:

Blue said...

I'm glad to read this. And sad.

I like the ridges in the jellied cranberries, too. I was the only one in my family that preferred canned to whole.