Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Needs More Salt

When I was a kid, we celebrated the traditional family Thanksgiving - tons of food (lots of it home grown), an all day cooking marathon, a cool fall nip in the air, and football. Not all the best plays were in the football games:
  • My mom would try to intercept my grandmother, who was intent on salting the daylights out of every dish. Nana would fake right, get a key block from a child-distraction (usually my little sister), then loft the saltshaker over the potatoes, turkey or whatever receiver was open at the time.
  • My brother, Tom, made an end run around kitchen duties by discovering a sudden, latent interest in football. He would tiptoe into the living room, bury himself in the couch, and stare quietly at the television, hoping that his stillness would camouflage him. He would blend, forgotten, into the furniture, hoping to avoid being hauled into the culinary chaos. I would not be surprised to discover that he was still there.

  • My younger sister would play ‘assistant coach' in the kitchen, messing up anything she touched, to the point Mom would shoo her off to play before she spilled any more hot gravy on the dogs or poured more cat food in the string beans. At the time I thought my sister was clueless. But now I’ve worked with adults who have perfected similar levels of incompetency. If you act like a child, continually botching projects, no one will expect you to do anything. I call it planned adolescence.

  • My youngest brother guarded the temperamental oven with a fire extinguisher, in case it 'overheated,' a traditional Celtic term meaning house fire. I always wondered if its affinity to go up in flames was somehow related to excessive salt.

    My dad spent much of the day in the back forest cutting firewood. He would come in for a break to watch football a bit, then head back out. After a few minutes listening to our kitchen shenanigans, he quickly opted for the soothing sound of the chainsaw.

    Our kitchen was long, like a bowling alley. Just clearing the table involved lots of hiking back and forth. On Thanksgiving Day, when everyone was in there, including the pets, navigation was impossible. We were constantly tripping over a dog or a grandmother or both. My mom held her ground and her sanity with a bottomless glass of Gallo wine. I huddled in a corner and peeled potatoes, taking notes on a childhood that was sure to someday make me a famous writer. If I survived.

    Even the livestock knew something special was going on. We often fed leftovers to the horses, so through the miracle of conditioned response, whenever they caught sight of my brother with the fire extinguisher, they knew Mom was cooking and that leftovers were inevitable. Ever hear a horse whinny all day for potatoes and gravy? It’s not a pretty sound. They’d get so excited that the cows figured out something was up, and would start in as well-

    Midnight the cow: Moo! Moooooo!

    Cindy the cow: What’s up? Why all the mooing?

    Midnight the cow: Well, the horses are making a racket. Something about a saltshaker run amok up there in the house. Figured I’d join in.

    Cindy the cow: Gotcha…Moo! Mooo! …what’s a saltshaker?

    Sadly, there was so much noise inside the house, with my mother defending the cranberries from Nana the Crazed Saltress of Doom, and my sister shrieking that her Chatty Cathy dolly wanted to help salt things, too, that the din from our cheerleading cows was lost in the commotion.

    Perhaps this was why holiday tunes were invented – to blast them loudly so the neighbors couldn’t hear the real chaos going on inside the house. Perhaps that is why we lived so far out in the country, so neighbors weren’t within earshot.

    In any event, it was Thanksgiving, so eventually, after hours and hours of preparation, pandemonium, and excessive spicing, we all sat down in the dining room together, said Grace, and ate. For about fifteen minutes. By then we had run out of salt.


ScottMGS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ScottMGS said...

Planned adolescence - I love it! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Annie.

Cat R said...

"Nana the Crazed Saltress of Doom" - ha!

After a marathon midday meal at my grandmother's house, the women would clean up, the men would play cribbage and watch football, and then, a few hours later, the food would come out again for round two -- turkey sandwiches and homemade desserts.

What a happy time for a kid. Almost all of the older generation is gone now, and it's hard to believe I'm the Thanksgiving coordinator and hostess today.

But my mom (the head baker of the family) still helps in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day. Instead of fighting her for the salt shaker, I follow her around, turning burners and dials down. Grandma likes everything well done.

Thanks for the smiles, Annie, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

insomniac said...

this is why you have ham for thankgiving... you get enough salt that way!

Annie said...

insom, we tried ham - Nana salted that, too! She was a vicious spice demon.

Cat - cribbage? Really?

One turkey day I mentioned how unfair it was that the women cleaned up and the boys watched football. My mom stopped for a moment, then proceeded to haul the boys in to help clean up. My very first women's rights movement!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!