Thankfully, I shared time with my family in the chaos of a meal with kids squealing and the boon of fragrances drifting from the kitchen to opposite corners of the house. It was our first Thanksgiving absent three with whom to share it, and no matter how filled the table was with stuffing and pies, the dull underlying pang beneath the surface beat like a sound that blended unnoticeably with the ambient noise of the room until it became periodically striking in the intermittent pauses. Keeping a steady rhythm of food and cleaning mitigated the jarring effect and the buzz of laughter and love smoothed the edges.
It was my first Thanksgiving as a Chef (in training) and this new title carried a bit of, at least self imposed, expectation. My sister’s home, beautiful and warm, is not equipped with the same culinary tools that I carry to the kitchen each weekend. To meet the need, I had my boyfriend smuggle a meat thermometer in his checked luggage and in my carry-on bag was a random assortment of ziplocks with cake flour, cloves, and the dry ingredients for my cornbread recipe that put me on high alert with TSA – I was surely labelled either a potential anthrax dealer or an overzealous dinner guest wary of the grocery stores in other states.
To start our holiday meal, I translated recipes from school to home. I moved from timidity with hot frying oil to having a bit of swagger as each batch of tempura battered broccoli crisped into delicately coated, crunchy green flowers. We prepared two turkey breasts in lieu of a full turkey. Although I wasn’t able to show off my trussing technique, I did have to save a critical stage bird that was cooking unevenly from the imperfection of a residential oven. Thank goodness for my meat thermometer : ) I channeled my inner Gordon Ramsay as I carefully tended to the bird expressing the grit and fortitude of the Terminator. My nieces eagerly grated potatoes for pancakes and young sis was documented on camera pan-frying. The kitchen was full, as it should be.
Thanksgiving day was bookended by the emptying of my parents’ home. In a few weeks, it will be occupied by a family, young as we once were, and they will mend whatever cracks have formed as our lives have shifted. In the hours spent pouring over generations of belongings crammed in closets, I began to see those lost in ways that were new to me – bigger, and with dimension. In corrugated boxes were the lives of my mother, father, and brother across ages, occupations, and in different levels of maturity, emotion and conviction. Old letters told tales that my sisters and I had been shielded from – some sweet and tender and others less forgiving. We saw snapshots of moments long forgotten in apologies and greeting cards and photos that captured smiles from easier times. We witnessed their cumulative achievements and neuroticisms in stark contradiction to one another, read pages from scattered journal entries, unpacked boxes they themselves intended to go through one day, and dug through toys, trinkets, and collections. In those moments, we could also see ourselves as children interacting with one another. Our handwriting raw and rudimentary, and our sentences ineloquent. We saw our sameness and our differences, our growth and consistency. The findings wove into a design unfettered by labels or prescribed by architecture. It was the ungraceful beauty of our humanity and it was undefined. And during this time that we share together, thankfully so am I.