Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!

Pecan pie is a must!

Pecan pie is a must!

I actually wrote this yesterday during a baking break, sipping coffee with hubby and watching the Thanksgiving parade – right before the internet went out. Happy Day After Thanksgiving, y’all!

Thanksgiving was one of my mother’s favorite holidays. It was one of my mother-in-law’s favorites, too. I never understood that – they spent so much time slaving in the kitchen in preparation for hordes of family and friends to descend like a plague of locusts and the clean-up took hours. To my young mind, they should have hated it. All that work and they didn’t even get to kick back and enjoy it…and yet they did.

Now, years later, I’m the mom and I understand. It’s one of my favorite holidays, too. I’ve been up since well before dawn (which is what I normally do anyway, I’m just usually writing instead of cooking but still…). The pecan pie is done and cooling and I just took the pumpkin pie out of the oven. Next up: cornbread dressing (which reminds me of the years we had both cornbread and oyster to satisfy the Southern and Northern branches of our big family). Marshmallow bourbon sweet potatoes are after that and of course the turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy and most likely green beans as well.

Facebook has been busy this morning as most of the family on hubby’s side and mine are checking in, wishing each other safe travels, seeing who’s baking what at the moment (hearing that we’re doing the same dishes at the same time makes it feel as though we’re cooking and baking beside each other). Love flows across the miles, across the years, across the generations.

Wherever Thanksgiving was – at Grandpa Bassett’s house in Philadelphia, Mississippi where the vegetables came from his garden, in Pascagoula, Mississippi with my dad’s lively rambunctious Ros clan – an endless supply of cousins running in and out with shouts of “Shut that door! You were not raised in a barn!” Due to Daddy’s job we spent several years in New York and Maine. In Maine Daddy worked with two other Mississippi transplants like himself and our families would gather for Thanksgiving (if Southerners don’t have family nearby for a holiday, we adopt more people), bringing a bit of Southern hospitality to the frozen north. Years later, after I was grown and married, I was introduced to hubby’s family’s Thanksgiving reunion. Wherever we were over the years, hugs and love abounded and the food was delicious. All sides of our families have fabulous cooks (for which I’m very grateful). Our friends all seem to share that trait as well. It’s a good trait.

After years of my family (Air Force and corporate) being across the world from each other, we all settled in Orlando, Florida for several years and it was just like old times, except instead of being the youngest, my brother, sister and I realized we were now the parents. That was a shocker. Instead of at Mom’s (long gone) we congregated at Sis’s house with our spouses, kids, and whichever cousins from whichever side (mom’s, dad’s, or my brother-in-law’s) could make it. Everyone brought food and no matter how many people we had (usually between 20-30, maybe 40 by the time friends dropped by) we always had leftovers. No one had to cook for at least a couple of days after that. Between our special events people and theme park workers, we came and went in shifts throughout the day as some of us invariably had to work on the holidays. It was complete chaos between cooking, watching the parade, football (both on TV and out in the yard – one advantage of a big family), kids running in and out – to a constant chorus of “Shut that door! You were not raised in a barn!” except now we were the ones doing the shouting instead of the ones being shouted at. It was fabulous.

These days we’re all scattered across the country and around the world again. We still laugh about our first Thanksgiving apart a few years ago – the first one in many years where we each had to actually cook a full meal after years of just contributing our specialty. Thanksgiving Day was spent calling each other “Okay-how do you cook a turkey again?” “How much bourbon do you put in the sweet potatoes?” “What do you mean there’s no cherry pie? Someone always brings a cherry pie!” It took us a year or so to get back in the swing, and we all seemed to have something missing (besides each other) but by the second year of apartness we had regrouped and had it down again.

Happy, carefree, holidays flow around stressful ones – like the year Daddy died a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. My brother and Sis’s husband were serving in the Air Force. Everyone gathered for Daddy’s funeral but by Thanksgiving they were at opposite ends of the world. Good friends and family were generous with invitations to spend Thanksgiving with them, but Mom and I were finding it tough to be thankful about anything that year. The invitation we accepted was from Mom’s sister, who was hurting as well. She was the last one to see my father alive. He was on a business trip to Jackson and it was our family tradition at the time that you never let family stay at a hotel if there’s family in the area. Daddy had just taken my aunt and one of my cousins who was going to college in Jackson out to dinner. One of our favorite pictures of Daddy was taken a few hours before he died. He was relaxing in a lounge chair at my aunt’s lake house, one of his favorite fishing spots. A few hours later he was gone, from a sudden heart attack. Our friends didn’t understand why we would want to be there of all places, in the house where Daddy died, yet being in the last place he was on earth (and one of his favorite places to fish) made us feel close to him and helped us all begin to heal. It was just the three of us, Mom, my aunt, and me. We spent the night before staring into the fire, crying, remembering, looking out over the lake, seeing my dad out on the boat, at the end of the pier, in his favorite lounge chair. By the time afternoon came and it was time to go to my grandfather’s house, we could deal. It wasn’t the happiest of Thanksgivings, but surrounded by family, friends, and memories of my father, there was a lot to be thankful for, even in the midst of heartbreak.

Our most unusual Thanksgiving was when we were stationed in Japan. My husband informed me he had invited some of his co-workers to our place for Thanksgiving dinner. I applauded his holiday spirit, but asked him what he expected me to cook the turkey in as we were living in a tiny Japanese apartment at the time and there was no oven. Within an hour my resourceful husband made a trip to the base and bought a huge microwave oven that also had a convection feature. It was so big he almost couldn’t get it through the narrow Japanese doorways. It was big enough to hold a turkey and despite my initial misgivings, the part-microwaved, part-convectionized turkey turned out to be one of our best, tender and flavorful. The following year, we were on base with a real American kitchen, so we invited our Japanese friends and our homesick neighbors in our high rise (the Army horse veterinarian next door and her ex-jockey husband and their family – homesick Kentuckians) to Thanksgiving dinner. God bless my sister-in-law for sending an emergency shipment of pecans from the trees back home in South Alabama for pecan pie!

This is our first Thanksgiving without Fran, my mother-in-law, and I’m missing her in the midst of the cooking. I’m missing my mom, too. But I feel them with me and can almost hear them say “Don’t forget” whatever special ingredient they threw in each dish to make it superb or “It’s done, you can take it out,” when I’m deliberating over whether the pie needs to come out or bake a little longer.

I’m also very happy. For the first time in several years (ever since our son joined the Marines) he’s home for the holidays! For the first time in years our entire immediate family will be here for dinner. Joy fills my heart and it’s all the sweeter for being away from each other for so long.

Taking a break on this cold (39 degrees in Florida) morning, enjoying coffee and the Thanksgiving parade with hubby, then it’s back to the kitchen for the next round of Thanksgiving goodness. Our tradition is to have Thanksgiving dinner out on the patio, but since it’s only supposed to get up to 60 or so, I don’t think we can pull that off this year.

Sending love to our family and friends across the years, across the miles, especially our military family by blood and by love, who are far away from home. You are not forgotten.

Wishing all of you the happiest of Thanksgivings.

Hugs and love.