Out of the Blue

Thankful for Thanksgiving

The holiday with staying power

By Deborah Salomon

Far as I can tell, of all the holidays Americans over-celebrate, Thanksgiving best retains its symbols and sanctities. Sure, the food magazines do turkey upside down and backward, including an abomination called turducken, a deboned chicken shoved inside a deboned duck shoved inside a deboned turkey costing an arm and a leg. Cranberry chutney may be all the rage, but the backbone of the celebration hasn’t changed much since the holiday, celebrated informally since the 1860s, was institutionalized in 1941.

At least for a few minutes, before digging in we still go round the table giving thanks. For what?

Columnists and entertainers offer lists of things to be thankful for, usually predictable, mostly generic. Families and their guests are called upon to do the same, with often poignant and amusing results. Pregnancies and new jobs are cited, as well as medical updates. “I’m thankful my cancer is in remission” is always welcome. This year, however, has been so fraught with tragedies that thanks may require a slant.

I’m thankful not to have contracted COVID-19.

I’m thankful there’s a vaccine to prevent it.

I’m thankful Hurricane Ida petered out before reaching Moore County.

I’m thankful my job wasn’t eliminated.

I’m thankful my home wasn’t destroyed by earthquakes or wildfires.

I’m thankful I didn’t run out of paper products during the pandemic.

Other observations, beyond the stuffing: The vocabulary of a traditional Thanksgiving usually includes “Grandma” — a relic from when she lived over the river and through the woods, not in a Florida retirement village. Where’s Grandpa? Stretched out in his BarcaLounger, watching the game. But Grandma, the institution, is fast morphing into a format more Sharon Stone and Judge Judy than the sweet homemakers-choir singers-pie bakers-rose growers I find on the obit page. Let’s be thankful for those while they last because, like the woolly mammoth, when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Back to food because, truth be told, without it Thanksgiving might wither on the vine. Try as they may, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten and Rachael Ray cannot budge green bean casserole, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce, spongy dinner rolls, pumpkin pie and a Butterball built like Dolly Parton — an image I’ve used for more than three decades.

They are sacred. They are icons. I know, because I grew up deprived. I’m the only child of late-onset parents. My mother loved to eat, hated to cook. She never once stuck a turkey in the oven even when I came home from college, starved — a waste for three people, was her excuse. If we weren’t invited somewhere, we ate in a hotel dining room with a turkey dinner special. Forget seconds. No leftovers. Imagine her surprise seeing me roast several birds a year, just for sandwiches. Besides, nothing compares to warmed-over cornbread stuffing for breakfast.

After all, June, not November, is National Turkey Lovers’ Month. Another surprise: Israel, devoid of Thanksgiving, consumes the most turkey per capita.

Last Thanksgiving, sales of small turkeys soared, attributed to fewer big gatherings. With the unexpected summer virus surge, no telling what will happen this month. But I have faith that even if the turkey and trimmings are pared down, Thanksgiving will survive intact.

Because where there’s life, there’s hope. And hopeful people always find something to be thankful for.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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