Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Plenty: The Food that Binds

Thanksgiving 2010 seems like yesterday to me. From his deathbed, my list-making, eternally instruction-giving father supervised the kitchen proceedings. In his hyperspecific way, he detailed what he wanted on the menu and from which restaurant I was to procure it.

At first, I was crestfallen: No home-cooked holiday meal? Then irritated: I wasn’t fond of the food at the restaurant he’d chosen. And embarrassed: The “restaurant” was a CHAIN!

But how can you not fulfill the wishes (or demands) of the dying? Upon reconsidering the situation, I realized the upside: If my father didn’t like the food, it wouldn’t be my fault. Grateful for that, I decided to add a few homemade dishes to the mix as backup—if not for my father, for my husband.

As it turned out, the massive quantities of food from the restaurant languished in the refrigerator while my father repeatedly requested the corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie I had made (without his instruction) in his kitchen.

I was secretly happy about this, though not just because the homemade won out over the chain restaurant. It felt good to be able to provide some pleasure to my father’s difficult days and sustenance to his deteriorating palate. It was especially meaningful—to me, anyway—that those particular dishes represented a host of Thanksgivings past, recollections permanently attached to my childhood and happier times. The time before the losses—the deaths and the divorce. Those dishes were traditional to our family’s gatherings, and now I had connected my father’s final Thanksgiving celebration to a sunnier, familial reminiscence.

Today I’ll be making pumpkin pie, corn pudding, and sweet potato casserole again. I’m grateful for the role they played in last year’s meal, and I take comfort in the memories they conjure that I will continue savoring for many years and meals to come.

May Peace and Plenty be yours this Thanksgiving.

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