Sunday, November 21, 2010
Sunday Before Thanksgiving, 2010
The chickens are getting their new feathers in and starting to look lovely, which is nice because they were not looking so good for awhile. Molting is hard on a bird, I now realize. Egg production went down to zero and is just starting to pick up again. I haven't seen Elvis covering the hens the way he normally does (i.e. constantly) either and so perhaps the lovely ladies get a break from his attentions during molting. I'm sure I could look that up but I'd rather just observe and make assumptions.
Shalayla, his most-bedded bride, was looking like death on a cracker just a few weeks ago. Not only was she barebacked from his fucking but also, in an attempt to escape him, had flown into the yard with the dogs and Buster attacked her. Her back looked like, well, a skinned chicken and was bloody. I did not have much hope for her but smeared antibiotic ointment with golden seal powder in it (my cure-all) over her wounds and was resigned that she might not make it.
She looks amazing now. Her feathers have grown in and you'd never know the poor dear had been so close to death. She is still scared of Elvis and I didn't get her picture this morning because she runs under the shed as soon as he looks her way but you can trust me- for now, she looks damn good.
Here's Miss Daffodil. She is creamy and purely white now, her feathers fresh and lovely. I just this morning noticed how beautiful she's become.
Miss Bob has such gorgeous patterns of black and brown and white and golden feathers. We named her Miss Bob because she looked like a quail as a peep. She's a handsome thing.
Elvis's tail feathers are growing back but it's this design which enchants me. His breast is a magnificent patterned work of black-and-white art.
I do love my chickens.
Now. Not to segue, but let's discuss Thanksgiving.
I cooked my first entire Thanksgiving meal when I was twenty-two years old. Hank was five months old, exclusively breast-feeding for his nourishment, and I was three months pregnant. Yes. I eventually lost that baby but when I cooked the Thanksgiving, I was definitely pregnant. My ex-husband's mother and her boyfriend came to eat with us and I still have some of the recipes she'd sent me beforehand. One for cornbread dressing, one for gravy. I think. I'm too lazy to get up and look.
Anyway, I made that dinner and we all crowded into the tiny kitchen of the apartment where we lived and ate it and I was so exhausted when it was over that I thought I'd die. My mother-in-law gave me the greatest gift of all times in offering to put up the left-overs. I let her do that and went and took a nap with Hank and I'll never forget that kindness.
That was thirty-four years ago.
Since then, I believe I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner every year but one. I could be wrong. I know that one year, though, Mr. Moon and I ran away to Dog Island where I did not cook a turkey but did, in fact, bake a chicken with stuffing and made cranberries. So, in a way, I cooked that year too, but just for the two of us.
And here I am, four days before Thanksgiving, 2010 and I am wondering how in the world I can do this again. Getting a supper on the table is a bit of a struggle for me now, although of course I do it. I believe I will still be able to cook when I'm dead. Or at least, when I'm almost dead. Or partially dead. If there's one thing I can do, it is cook. Always and forever, I can cook.
Part of the problem with Thanksgiving is that we have fallen into a ritual of having a party the night before Thanksgiving. This party arose from nothing. I have never organized a damn thing. It's just the night when people are in town who have moved away and it started like that. Music, mostly, because so many of these people are musicians and then other people started to come and the kids' friends started to come and now, all of a sudden, it's engraved in stone, this party.
I told Hank last week that I wasn't sure I wanted to do it this year.
"Oh, no," he said, "It's happening."
The first year this event happened, I did nothing food-wise but cook some frozen ravioli and pour bottled sauce over it and set out some bread. I mean- it's the night before Thanksgiving. And Mr. Moon bought oysters and shucked them in the backyard and grilled some and so there were crackers and cocktail sauce and hot sauce. Maybe some chips. I don't remember.
As the party has grown, though, it feels as if I need to do more and last year there had to be at least forty people here and although I don't remember the food, I am sure there was a lot of it.
And drink, too, of course.
And music. Which is still the purpose of the party in my mind. Hearing these old friends play music together, some of them whom I've been listening to for almost forty years, is such a joy to me. The kids sing and Jessie plays mandolin, and Melissa plays banjo and that night has become the most magical night of the entire year in some ways.
So. Yes. I need to have that party.
The main problem arises when the next morning rolls around. Most of the kids spend the night and when I get up to make the stuffing and get the turkey in the oven and start the greens, I am the only one awake and some years I hardly qualify in the awakeness department, but I get up and cook anyway. Last year Hank got up to pee and there I was in the kitchen, apron on, up to my elbows in cornbread and sauteed celery and onions, the turkey draining in the sink and I said, "You know, none of you children ever gets up to watch me cook the turkey. None of you knows how to cook a turkey. What would you do if I was gone?"
And Hank looked at me and said, "Wake up Jessie." And then he went back to bed.
Now I have to be honest and tell you that every child makes a casserole. Hank makes a broccoli casserole, Jessie the spinach and artichoke casserole, Lily the green bean casserole (yes, with cream of mushroom soup and the crunchy onions) and May always brings some amazing vegetable dish of squashes, usually.
So in theory, I don't have THAT much to do.
But as we all know, theory and reality hardly ever meet on the path of life. Not in my life, anyway.
There is the salad to make and the greens to cook and the pies to bake, the giblets to boil and pick over to make gravy with, the bread to make and the rice and then May and I always VOW not to make mashed potatoes but then, at the last minute, we do. And the cranberries, of course, two kinds. And the sweet potatoes. And the veggie tray and the pickles and olives and cheese and crackers and the pesto-stuffed mushrooms and, and, and...
Oh yes. The iced tea. Sweet and un. Lemons to cut or limes.
And by the time it's all over, I have cooked my ass off for days, spent hundreds of dollars, thrown a party right in the middle of it, and everyone sits down to eat and in half an hour, it's done.
DONE. Except for the kitchen where gravy is cooling and gelling in the pan and the turkey lies with its bones sticking out and no matter how many times I wash the dishes throughout the day as I cook (dozens), every damn pan in the house is dirty again by the time we're done eating.
Thirty-four years of this.
THIRTY-FOUR FUCKING YEARS.
So this morning I sat on my porch and tried to figure out if it would make me feel worse, at this juncture in my life, to have the party and the Thanksgiving dinner or not to.
I have decided, (big shock here) that I have to do it.
BUT- I am hereby putting everyone on notice- the pies are going to come from Costco. I am going to make the turkey and the dressing and the cranberries. And the greens.
Y'all can do the rest. If you want sweet potatoes, make some damn sweet potatoes. Same for all the rest.
Okay. I'll make the gravy.
I'm buying rolls. Forget the angel biscuits. JUST GET OVER IT- NO ANGEL BISCUITS!
And I'm not whipping cream.
I'll probably make the rice BUT AS GOD IS MY WITNESS THERE WILL BE NO MASHED POTATOES. WE DO NOT NEED MASHED POTATOES!
Someone else can make the damn salad. There's enough arugula in the garden to make a salad the size of New Jersey. Someone else can make the tea. I don't know why, but I hate making the tea.
And there is no sit-down time to eat it all up in half an hour. Hank, May, and Lily and Jason all have other places they have to be during the day for another family meal so y'all can come here and eat when you want. There will be food. Help yourself.
I'll probably be in bed. Or sitting in the porch swing and weeping, drinking straight out of the rum bottle.
It would be nice if someone brought me a sandwich. Thank-you.
And now I need to put on a bra and go to town and buy the turkey so it can thaw so I can pull the giblets out and boil them to put some in the stuffing. And oh yes, buttermilk and corn meal so I can make the cornbread for the stuffing. And buy food for the party.
And rum. Which I may not share with anyone.
Yes. We will have Thanksgiving because I am thankful for my family and because I can cook and therefore, I do.
I'm pretty sure this will not be the last you'll hear about Thanksgiving. Stay tuned.
P.S. Upon rereading this, I realize that Hank comes out sounding a bit bossy. He's not bossy. Okay, sometimes he is. But mostly, he just loves ritual and he loves his mama's cooking and frankly, that makes his mama happy.
So Hank- I love you. Thanks for keeping me in mind of what I was so obviously put here on earth to do. You want to make the sweet potatoes? Let me know.