A Toast to a Happy Thanksgiving

This time of year I am homesick for family, for foods that have been made by generations of Southern hands, for places that seem like places in dreams it has been so long since I visited. It’s Thanksgiving and I am once again not with my family in Georgia. Even as I write this, I know my sister is preparing the dressing for the turkey, either baking the cornbread or the biscuits or putting them together with the other ingredients to have ready to bake tomorrow. She and my mother will be making ambrosia for dessert, and Jessica, my niece, will be making the sweet potato soufflé. Tim, my brother-in-law, will be frying the turkey in the morning, while Tricia, my brother’s wife will be cleaning the house and getting the dining room ready for tomorrow and probably making chocolate delight. Tomorrow the dining room will be full of my extended family, even my nephew and his wife who recently married. Only we will be absent from the meal.

Since I can’t be in Georgia, I try to keep my Southern traditions here in Wisconsin as much as possible. I make cornbread stuffing rather than the dressing I grew up with and not so secretly yearn for, but I can’t get the proper stone ground cornmeal here in the north that I could at home, so I improvise. I put sausage, Jimmy Dean sage flavored, and pecans (rhymes with “we can” when pronounced properly). I now incorporate dried cherries with a nod to our Wisconsin ties. I also make my Mema’s recipe for sweet potato soufflé and have the Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, the kind where you can see the rings from the can, because that is what we always had when I was growing up. I make pumpkin pie for my husband and boys, but I also make an apple pie, something my husband never had at Thanksgiving until he knew me, but I remember my Mema always had an apple pie too.

This time of year I miss so much about my Southern hometown, which is never more apparent than right now at the holidays. I miss the weather, of course, and the familiar streets of Sandersville, my hometown. But mostly I miss feeling like I belong somewhere, not the feeling you get from friends and in laws but the bone deep feeling that you are amongst your people, those who look like you do, whose gestures trace back generations, who get your sense of humor because they share it, who remember the embarrassing things that happened to you but don’t care. In fact, that is what endears you to each other. Your family know all there is to know about you and still love you, no matter what.

Perhaps I miss my home so much now because,  before I moved away from the South, I only knew holidays with my large extended family. We converged on each of our grandmothers’ houses on both sides of the family to celebrate together at least once each year at the holidays. I married into a small family. My husband’s mother was an only child, and his father only had one sister. Now my husband’s brother and sisters live far away from us and are traveling to see their in laws this holiday, but for us Georgia is too far for us to travel with so little time to make the trip and get Travis back to college when he needs to go. Therefore, here we are.

Though our celebration will be small in number, it will be large in sentiment. This year especially, I am thankful for many things. Now more than ever I appreciate the way I was raised with cousins as far as the eye could see and aunts and uncles in abundance who took the time to come together to be with family. I am thankful to have grown up with so many great cooks in the family and for my sister Andrea learning the recipes I haven’t been around to learn. She is teaching those recipes to my niece Jessica so they will never die. I am thankful for my brother hosting my Georgia family so they can be together at the holidays. Even if I can’t be with them, I know they are carrying on the traditions our family established so long ago. That is a comfort. I am also thankful my husband has a job again so we can provide for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year as well as the other necessities of life.

I could go on and on with what I am grateful and thankful for this year, but I will leave you with one thought for this holiday. Be thankful for the family gathered at your table this Thanksgiving, whether they have traveled far to be with you or just came from across the street. Remember how much you love them. Look past the whining children, the overindulgent uncle, the aunt who changed the recipe of the favorite pumpkin pie because she wanted to make it special even though everyone preferred it the way it had always been. Look past the details and forget about the perfect Thanksgiving meal. There is no such thing. As you look around the room at your family, be thankful you are together and remember those who aren’t with you, even though they want to be. Drink a toast to them and to each other, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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