Sunday, November 30, 2014

Caught in a thought

Sometime around noon on Thursday I suddenly found myself wading through a Norman Rockwell illustration.

It was Thanksgiving Day.

And somehow, here I was, smack dab in the middle of a cozy kitchen with 16 other people, each taking our turn with polite jabs at pieces of turkey, or honey-baked ham, while loading our plates with sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, cranberry sauce and that irresistible dressing from Kim's mother's secret recipe (it's not written down anywhere).

Rockwell and I share the same Thanksgiving vision.
 I stepped to one side for a moment's reflection while the others were helping themselves to the feast and instantly I became a brushstroke in Rockwell's  famous "Freedom from Want" portrait, the one where somebody's grandparents are serving a whopping turkey to the rest of their clearly extended family.

Rockwell always considered himself to be an illustrator, not an artist, but this particular work has almost always generated such a strong emotional current for me that I can almost smell the turkey and hear the table chatter.

Illustrator, indeed.

I'd seen that picture as a child and, God help me, it's one of the first images that fills my brain every Thanksgiving since then. I don't know why. It just does.

For the first couple decades of my life, my Pennsylvania Thanksgivings resembled Rockwell's very own vision. But then life intervened. One of my brothers moved to Alaska. Another to Iowa. I moved to North Carolina. Our grandparents passed away and so did our parents. Curiously, our Thanksgivings depended on others of no blood relation.

Here's the spread with bits of the gathering. Dressing is at bottom left corner.
 So this year — and we've done this a few times before — we were invited to Kim's brother's in-laws for Thanks-giving in Asheboro. I think by the time Kim and I rolled in, there were 17 of us, which might have set some kind of house record for attendance.

I met at least three people I'd never seen before. Talk about extended families...

Anyway, the next three hours or so were a slice in time to be savored along with the pumpkin pie, and I found myself not only thankful, but grateful, too.

Thanksgivings are like that, aren't they?

Kim's mother's secret dressing recipe:

Hushpuppies from Backcountry Barbecue and Stamey's Barbecue
Cornbread from Southern Lunch.
Toast from Mayberry's in Winston-Salem
Some buttermilk
A package of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing mix
A hard-boiled egg or two
A couple of fresh eggs
A pinch of sage
A stick of butter
Celery, onion
Real cooked chicken
Chicken soup broth
A dollop of love

The hushpuppies, cornbread and toast are all leftovers from actual meals we ate at those places and brought home in to-go boxes. Mix all of this stuff together and put it in a flat pan. Stick it in the oven at the usual 350 degrees and bake until it smells great or looks like it might be done. Enjoy.

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