i was going to tell you how at 7:50 pm, i was immersed in the somewhat foolhardy procedure of chopping orange zest with tear-blurred vision and a 10-inch sudoku knife. i was going to tell you about the cause of this occasion, and probably wander into some slightly pedantic musing about religion, humanity, and/or brotherly love.
this seems pretentious, so i won’t do it.
i’ll tell you instead about the cake…pie…thing for which i was chopping the zest. it’s the grace note on a holiday that has gone eerily well. i hosted my first thanksgiving yesterday, bringing to the table not only a turkey (6lb breast, because i was only serving four moderate eaters), two vegetable dishes and a hand-shredded apple slaw, but separate nutted and nut-free stuffings and cranberry salads. not to mention the combination pumpkin pie-and-cheesecake that is one of my harvest staples, or the made-from-scratch gravy, or the delightfully oaty fresh market dinner rolls, or the mulled pomegranate-apple cider.
it was a process that involved two cooking days and a full-page shopping list. at one point, i had to laugh, remembering how at childhood thanksgivings, all four stove eyes and the oven would be going full blast all day — as i looked at my kitchen, two crock pots and a rice cooker occupied the stove, with the stock pot of cider simmering quietly on a back burner. my thanksgiving involves a lot of plugs, it seems. as my mom said, good thing the power didn’t decide to go out, as it did two years ago because of a blown circuit in my grandmother’s bedroom.
but those sort of catastrophes seem to be the province of family thanksgivings, not mine. i even earned the ultimate accolade…my grandfather said, “it’s been a great visit, and i’ve really enjoyed it. you can’t ask for more than that.”
no, i can’t. in a family that firmly embraces the “no news is good news” philosophy of compliments, this was tantamount to a papal blessing.
tomorrow, we’ll get up way too early and drive down to the extended family’s gathering. i spent this afternoon making my contributory baked macaroni and cheese and — because i felt like it — the aforementioned dessert. barring wrong turns, we’ll arrive maybe an hour before the meal, and soon after, we’ll make our excuses and get back on the road for the four-point-five hour return trip. in between, we’ll make conversation if there is conversation to be made, but it will be of the politely inconsequental variety. in a family as disparate as mine, it doesn’t do to get too personal — keep it polite, keep it generic, and for the love of all things holy, don’t mention anything contraversial unless you want to spend the next hour listening to all the reasons why only idiots and city folk would hold such a position.
yesterday was the first time in my life that “thanksgiving” wasn’t synonymous with dread and a loss of appetite. we had moist turkey and wide-ranging conversation; we laughed and joked and talked about my mom’s fuquay house (grandpa approves unconditionally of it, incidentally); and at the end of the meal, i served pie and ice cream, while my guests drank coffee and cider and said what a good time they’d had. it was like walking into a folger’s commercial, and i didn’t come down off the high until i fell into bed, exhausted, at 10 pm.
if thanksgiving could always be that way, what a glorious tradition it could become. it’s enough to make me swear off the extended family thing for life.
so at 7:50 pm tonight, i was standing in the kitchen, working by the light of the red photographer’s lamp that makes me happy just by its very existence. a casserole of cheesy-maccy-panko crumb goodness was cooling on the stove top next to me, and i was rediscovering the tao of food prep while behind me, anne lamott talked about jesus, and miracles, and humanity at thirty thousand feet.
i’ve been hearing about the crisis in india for what seems like all week, though i think it’s been only a few days, and while my heart is sick with pain for those injured, and anger towards the ignorantly vengeful zealots responsible, i haven’t cried.
but chopping my zest tonight, a miracle unfolding in my mind’s eye as she talked, the balance of humanity reasserted itself. california, india, our own hometowns — they all have their stories of ugliness and anger, of closing oneself off from one’s fellow men, of hiding within fear that masks itself with hatred, of turning aside instead of putting out a helping hand. but equally, though perhaps more subtly, these places also have their miracle moments. and the thought of those small — but so significant — gestures, brought tears to my eyes. it’s so easy to write off the whole world as self-absorbed and stupid and proud to be both. thank god there’s more to us than that.
i have all my fingers and a pie that is filling the house with the scent of almond and orange.