Thursday, November 22, 2012

Food and Family

For Loretta and me, Thanksgiving has always been about food and family (not necessarily in that order). It's a special holiday for us—we were married on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This makes it easy to remember the approximate date of our anniversary, if not the exact date. The exact date is November 26th, which coincidentally also fell on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year, when our nephew Mark and his bride Rhonda were also married on that date. That was a memorable Thanksgiving. Because Rhonda has two sets of parents, last year we attended two Thanksgiving dinners and acquired two more families. Lots of food, lots of ohana.

When we lived in Buffalo, Thanksgivings were always spent with Loretta's family. Before we were married, they met at her cousins' restaurant, the Taiwan. It was a huge gathering, encompassing all of the cousins and their families. (In the Chinese community, a "cousin" is anyone who comes from the same village in China. Quite a few people from Loretta's father's village had settled in the Buffalo area.)

I had the honor to be present at the last Thanksgiving at the Taiwan, before the restaurant was sold and the celebration moved to the home of one of the cousins. All of the tables in the dining room were shoved together to make one huge table, which was covered with all of the traditional American fare, plus countless Chinese dishes. After dinner, members of the older generation settled in for an evening of Mah Jongg, while the young people (which at the time included Loretta and me) went out into the parking lot to work off some calories playing touch football, then returned to the warmth of the restaurant (remember, this was Buffalo) for a game of Trivial Pursuit.

My childhood Thanksgivings weren't much different from Loretta's, except that they weren't at a Chinese restaurant and there were not nearly as many people. Also, instead of games, dinner was usually followed by naps. The Thanksgivings I remember best were the ones at the home of my grandmother and aunts. My Grandma Shorter loved to cook. Most of my memories of her are in the kitchen: peeling potatoes, rolling out dough, cutting noodles, kneading together the ingredients of a meat loaf. She made everything from scratch: mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, pies—even the whipped cream to go on them, hand-whipped in an ancient stoneware crock. Then, one year, my mother and aunts convinced her to try a relatively new labor-saving product: whipped cream in an aerosol can.

It was a wonderful dinner, as all of my grandmother's holiday dinners were. When the main course was finished, dishes were cleared, the pies were brought in, and my grandmother prepared to serve dessert. She cut a slice of pumpkin, mincemeat (or, as was more often the case, a "sliver of each") for each person as requested, carefully laying the slices on dessert plates. She then picked up the can of whipped cream and—following the directions on the can—shook it vigorously, then pressed the nozzle.

Unfortunately, she neglected to aim the nozzle at the pie.

Some of the whipped cream hit the ceiling. Most of it hit my grandmother in the face. In some families, I suppose, such an event would be considered a disaster. In my mother's family, it was considered hilarious. No one laughed harder than my grandmother.

Loretta and I miss our East Coast families during the holidays, but, as someone once said, "Friends are the family we choose for ourselves." This year, we are looking forward to spending another Thanksgiving with members of our West Coast family: our good friends Ron and Judie and Judie's daughter Beth. As usual, there will be plenty of good food and drink, and dinner will be followed by the traditional Thanksgiving Pictionary Tournament. Ron will put on some classic rock, or maybe even some Christmas music. In short, it will be a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I wish all of you just as wonderful a Thanksgiving, spent with the ones you love.

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