Today isn’t about the food. Yes the meal will be tasty and preparing it has consumed our time and imagination for much of the week, but when I think about all the Thanksgivings I’ve had, I remember the people.
The excitement of dinner at my grandmother and grandfather’s house – I loved them. They died too soon, and the excitement shifted to dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house. The first Thanksgivings I cooked on my own in Seattle, I was ridiculously happy reading old cookbooks and thinking about what to serve. I thought it was about the food, because that’s what had my attention.
Now I have a job where we make big meals five days a week, and I am becoming more aware of the many things that food delivers besides nutrition. I love the camaraderie of extra volunteers helping prepare the many dishes from scratch. A little girl raises money at her mother’s salon, and comes in with her Girl Scout troop to decorate the dining room.
Last year my dear friend Ellie steered us through making 150 sweet potato hand pies. This year, I am looking at pictures of her hands on Instagram – she’s moved to Brazil because her husband got a job.
Ellie is from Brazil, and the holiday was hers to invent while she lived here. I remember being shocked at what she made for Thanksgiving: a turkey leg in a Crockpot so that she could take the day to hike with her family.
Why was this such a surprise? Food is but a conduit for the connections we foster and hold dear. Ellie’s life revolves around cooking and teaching and exploring the potential of food to do very many things.
Yet in my stilted imagination, I assumed her Thanksgivings in America should take our shape. Now that she’s gone, I see that she recognized what we disguise with our seven-layer starch cake of a meal surrounding a large bird.
Today is about the people. The food (and the many millions of pots and pans and dishes we will wash) is incidental, a delivery system for the sentiment my friend captured by going out and walking with her family in the beautiful world.