Once, long ago, my maternal grandmother was a privileged child. She had servants and maids and her father was one of the largest landowners in the state of Tennessee. As she grew, she wanted for very little. Her mother had died when she was very young, and the help coddled her. My grandmother went to the University of Tennessee in 1928, and was one of the 10 campus beauties at the time.
She met my grandfather, fell in love and married him after her freshman year at UT. He, too, was from a well off family, one here in Tipton County. Then the stock market crashed and they lost everything. My grandmother, soon to be the mother of four children, was never taught how to take care of herself. She had no idea about any form of housekeeping, because quite frankly, she’d never done it. And now, here she was, on a farm, with children, and she didn’t know what she was doing. I tell you this to explain why my artist mother does not cook. She has had a major learning curve and, well, she prefers to paint. And sometimes, sometimes, the results are very funny. Let me repeat, my mother is an artist. She does not cook. She uses the stove to clean her paintbrushes.
She can cook if she HAS to, she just prefers not to. When I was a child in New Orleans, there was a convenience store on Magazine Street that sold rotisserie chickens. We ate a lot of those. My mother’s artistic bent goes to her cooking/preparing foods as well. While in grade school, I would get very excited to spend the night at my father’s during the school week, as that meant he would make me lunch. My father’s lunch consisted of ham and American cheese on white bread with yellow mustard and mayonnaise, an apple and some Doritos. And it would be in a small, individual sized brown paper bag. This to me was heaven. You see, my mother’s lunch, and I kid you not, consisted of: shredded cheddar cheese with onion and mayonnaise on whole wheat bread OR peanut butter and mayonnaise on whole wheat bread OR peanut butter and onion on whole wheat bread, sugar cane or a half of a pomegranate, and some leathery fruit roll ups from the health food store.
This delicious meal was packaged in a very large green and white polka dotted bag with a red yarn ribbon. And sometimes my mother would draw on it for good measure. Oh, the horror. If she happened to fry chicken for us, she’d send the WHOLE chicken, in case we dropped a piece, or five. So you can imagine our Thanksgivings. When we returned to Tennessee, we were back with my mother’s family, and the tradition was to go out to eat on Thanksgiving. The entire family would dress up and meet somewhere and have a big meal together. Often, there were about 30 of us. This turned out to be a good thing and quite honestly, a relief, but my mother still liked to cook a turkey for leftovers. For some reason, for this one time a year, a turkey roasting gives a sense of home to my mom. It’s something that’s really, I don’t know, motherly. She does this for us, I think, for a sense of the holiday and also because she loves us enough to go that extra distance. Bless her heart.
Over the years, many, many years, it has taken numerous attempts for her to get it right. The one time I remember the turkey looking absolutely perfect, the light bulb exploded in the oven. Another year, she marinated the turkey in red wine. It was purple, I tell you, purple. Unless you have one of those pop-up ready things, it’s difficult to know if a purple turkey is thoroughly cooked. Once, we ordered a fried turkey from KFC- a side note for anyone wondering, that was one fabulous turkey. After a while my mother changed to ham. That first year, the dog was given the hambone and promptly began to throw up all over the dining room floor during dinner. We would have been more dismayed if we didn’t have food poisoning from the oyster dressing. That was the same year a mouse showed up in the kitchen. So here we were, the dog retching, us with food poisoning and a poor frightened mouse that had inadvertently stumbled into the wrong house. I should like my mother’s ham. I really should. Or I should be nice about it and probably be quiet.
However, I must say that not liking your mom’s Thanksgiving ham makes for great Dr. Seuss-like rhymes on Face book. To my surprise, soon after, I was handed over the turkey day reigns. I made a beautiful lemon and sage turkey, with butter, which had cooked properly under tented Reynolds wrap, mashed potatoes with blue cheese, cornbread dressing, and all the accompaniments. I was busy, and so, I gave my mother one task. One. To heat up the prepackaged gravy that came with the bird. Did she put it in a bowl and microwave? No. Did she put it in a pan on the stove and heat up? No. My mother put it in a corning glass dish, set it in the oven and promptly forgot it. I give you example A. This year we will go to Pine Crest. No muss, no fuss. And leftovers?
Well, I hear there’s a certain place in Tipton County that will bake or fry your brought in bird for $10. I’ll make some cornbread stuffing and probably buy a jar of gravy. After all, is it really the food we celebrate? No, I believe it’s the memories and the time together, the family, the love, etc. And, as my mom reads my column, I would like to thank her for being such a good sport. I love you, mom, happy Thanksgiving. And to you and yours, may you find yourselves surrounded by love this year and blessed beyond measure.