After I wrote about Thanksgiving menus, the emails I received in response moved my thoughts away from caloric intake towards an awareness of how challenging this holiday is for many people and how many ways you bravely forge ahead to create a more inclusive sense of family during a holiday that can get bogged down in traditional and isolating notions about what family is.
In other words, your emails reminded me that courage is more the theme of the day than condiments.
Many wrote about gatherings with friends instead of family because of emotional as well as geographical distances from blood relatives. I loved the way you made the meal a celebration of a larger definition of family with mention of what the dogs had and guest lists that were bouquets of diversity.
You created occasions all over America that changed the status quo with redefined notions of how to celebrate our common humanity as well as what to cook. By the time I was through reading your emails, I wanted to sprinkle Fringe Tree Flower Essence over every dish served in America to support your grass roots effort to expand our notions of family and celebration. Vive the Oneness!
When people described a menu to me, it was usually an aside to the main story of making the best of a complicated situation. I heard about side dishes boiled with salted beef from a Newfoundland man a long way from his North Atlantic home, maple pecan cheesecake made by a single mom from the south, now living in New York and facing Thanksgiving without her children, a dinner that was take out Chinese because the apartment renovation wasn’t going so well, a meal delayed because the oven died, potluck gatherings of friends with everyone bringing their favorite Thanksgiving treat, memories of eating too much of Aunt Shirley’s marshmallow sweet potato pie or too many black olives from the ubiquitous crystal glass relish dish, an Oklahoma Thanksgiving in New England with the cornbread stuffing cooked in Grandma’s oval dish, mention of many chocolate cream pies for children and last but not least, I heard tales about fried turkeys. There were some wild stories about this new take on turkey. All I can say after reading your tales is that if you decide to ever fry a turkey, call a friend to talk you down or an insurance agent.
One interesting menu description came from a young man who reported that his family usually had tortilla and cream cheese pinwheels appetizers, turkey with loganberry sauce, hot chili gravy, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, flan, and glogg, a drink of fruits and spices fermented in vodka then added to hot mulled wine. This menu was a glorious melting pot of his Mexican and Swedish heritage, yet when all was said and done, he talked more about the fact that he could not get home to his family in Southern California for the holiday, separated as he was by a three thousand mile geographical distance.
At Green Hope Farm, the yeast of the holiday weekend came from the visitors in our midst. They gave everything a sparkle and a sense of occasion. Michael and Catherine arrived with fantastic treats from Brooklyn, even beautiful dog biscuits from a Pawtisserie. Together we walked and talked and laughed and made a mess of the kitchen for Rhino for four days. At the meal itself we had much of Jim’s family and more lovely visitors originally from England and Canada. This helped us not take ourselves too seriously. The evening ended with a dance party in the bottling room with all the little people whirled around until bedtime by various big adults. I thank everyone who was part of our celebration. You gave us to a chance to feel a wonderfully expansive sense of family. I thank you for your willingness to help us open the throttle on any exclusive definition of family and let it rip.
Actually, I thank all the folks who were the yeast in the dough of other people’s tribal gatherings. As someone put it, “We all have to be our best selves when there is company and that’s a good thing”.
I heard from one Green Hope Farm friend who was invited into a tightly knit family group with what she felt was a sort of a “pity for a single woman without family” invite. Her story of the day unfolded with painful moments in which various members of the host family made it clear they really did not want to make the effort with a new person. Yet this woman kept seeking to connect with someone at the gathering and finally found a delighted welcoming presence in the family’s ninety five year old grandmother. At first she thought the woman’s penetrating looks bore the same message that she felt the rest were
thinking such as “Who is this person without any family on this family occasion?”. But by the end of the meal the grandmother said to her, “You know, I feel like I know you. Do you know what I mean?”
What a gift she gave this gathering by being brave enough to cross the empty social space that sometimes exists when people make an offer for the sake of being kind but haven’t quite inhabited their best selves enough to move into a state of heartfelt inclusion. Her willingness to include them in her heart, even when she had none of the social power in the situation, was a gift to them all. And the grandmother knew it!