Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, November 27, 2014, 9:29 a.m.
Thanksgiving morning. It’s the beginning of one of my favorite days of the year. I love Thanksgiving because, other than feeling incredibly sluggish tonight, it’s all positive. The family grows ever more distant, and everyone seems excited to see each other. There’s no down side to Thanksgiving, at least the way we observe it here. It has none of the tiresome pettiness that sometimes arises during Christmas and New Year’s.
The turkey’s in my oven, and my mother will be arriving shortly to see if I’ve somehow managed to mess it up, even though all I’ve done is very carefully follow her directions. The dressing is in the refrigerator, ready to bake before the feast commences. Mom’s oven isn’t working, so she’s taking advantage of the quarter-mile commute to my house.
Let there be casseroles, sayeth the Lord at Plymouth Rock. And tidings of great joy. And custards of great sweet potatoes.
The centerpiece of our Thanksgiving is my mother’s oyster dressing, which, frankly, is the greatest ever made. This week I’ve gotten a bit irritated at people, such as the comedian Jim Gaffigan, saying that there’s no such thing as dressing. “It’s stuffing!” they scream.
No. It’s not. Not everyone stuffs the turkey. Some people make a huge pan of dressing. In our case, this is because it would take at least four turkeys to contain enough interior space to provide as much stuff as our family will consume. Our dressing doesn’t become stuffing until it stuffs our stomachs.
And imagine the leftovers of four turkeys! There wouldn’t be any more Duke’s Mayonnaise on the shelves by Saturday.
An hour or so ago, as I reported to my mother that the turkey wasn’t black, we talked about her dressing.
“I love it the way my mother made it,” she said, and she added that the real secret wasn’t the oysters, or the cornbread, but rather the hen broth. Each year my mother boils a hen just for the broth, and the broth is used just for the dressing. She’s also bullish on the chopped celery. Last night, for supper, I had hen and noodles, and that’s because, as good as it is, my sister and her two sons had had their fill of it at Mom’s house.
Hen doesn’t taste like turkey. It produces a broth as distinctive as, well, broth gets. The only time I eat hen is in the lead-up to Turkey Day. The basic reason my mother cooks a hen for the dressing is that her mother, who died thirty years ago, did. My mother is seventy-four, and it’s occurred to us that the only proper preparation of dressing may die with her.
Ray, my nephew, and his wonderful wife, Jessica, and their jolly eleven-month-old boy, Thomas, will be here. Perhaps ten years ago, I took Ray to task for being impolite to Mom. I told him Grandma wasn’t going to live forever, and he ought to be nicer to her.
He thought about it, squeezed his chin with thumb and index finger, and said, “Just think. When Grandma dies, we’ll never eat dressing like that again.”
Among the blessings I cherish today is the health, vitality, and wisdom of my mother, who has been through a lot in her seventy-four years. She reads my manuscripts before anyone else. In fact, she reads voraciously in general. There’s more to her than an aromatic kitchen.
But that dressing is something.
Read my short stories and thoughts about writing at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and you can find the books I’ve written here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1