As I grow older (and wiser?), holidays have become times of retrospection and deep appreciation for family traditions.
When I was a child, my family would usually spend the Thanksgiving celebration with my maternal grandparents. It was not a strange thing to have thirty or more guests, a mix of friends and family, at their feasts. My grandmother was the consummate cook. Born in the early 1920s, in the rural South, she survived her fair share of challenges. She was the eldest daughter who took on the cooking responsibilities at 12 years old when her own mother suddenly died. She was not educated beyond her high school diploma nor had she amassed great material wealth. But her legacy of love enriched our family beyond measure.
Grandma (or Granny or Grandma Harriet, she answered to them all) began her preparations for the November holiday in early October, stocking up on the necessary ingredients for her masterpieces. Her holiday table would barely have room for guests to sit and eat, as the meal of at least three meats, multiple sides, and homemade rolls (thanks to Aunt Sis) would stretch across its surface. Oh…and the pies…there were enough for everyone to enjoy to their full AND take one home as a parting gift. It was clear that this day was all about the Food!
Soon after college, earning a humble income, I lived with my grandmother before going out on my own. By then, she was widowed, and welcomed me into her home, but not because she was lonely. (One of her four sisters lived next door, and they were quite a pair.) I believe she longed to have someone to cook for daily. At breakfast every day she’d inquire, “What do you feel like having for dinner?” At that age, I found her preoccupation with food to be an annoyance.
Who thinks about dinner at breakfast time in their mid-twenties???
By the time I married in my late 20s, my grandmother had moved out of state to live with my mother, her only “birth” daughter. She would call me in the afternoons to find out what I planned to cook for my husband that evening. I laugh as I recall this--my husband barely came home before midnight early in his career. But I would humor Grandma and listen to her cooking advice.
It has only been a little over two years since our family lost my beloved Grandma. She was the ultimate matriarch, living until almost 95 years old. She mothered more than her share of children, as she also raised her nieces when their mother, Granddaddy’s sister, passed away suddenly. Still, no one in our family can think of Grandma without remembering her in her favorite place, the kitchen.
This season of thanks means different things to different people…evoking a range of emotions, from trepidation to sheer joy. For me, it has meant different things at different seasons of my life. When I was younger, I didn't recognize the wonder of gathering around the table to break bread and how it has the ability to connect folks. Only now, I appreciate that food was my grandmother’s “love language,” knitting our hearts to one another.
It’s funny. I find myself asking my own children for their meal preferences. And I enjoy the glimpse of appreciation I see on their faces when I’ve prepared something with them especially in mind. I realize that I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. LOL.
This year, I celebrate Turkey Day with Harriet Kathryn Burke on my mind. And I feel full from the memory of her consistent commitment to lacing every meal with her deep abiding love for each of us, her family. I miss her every day.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Take the day off and spend time celebrating your family traditions...the ones you've inherited and/or the ones you've created! Make a point to connect with those you love.
Until next time…
Picture above: Harriet Kathryn Burke, circa 1950s