United States President John Fitzgerald Kennedy issued Proclamation 3560 on Nov. 5, 1963, stating, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”
Now, 59 years later, Americans repeat this traditional holiday for giving thanks. In a world plagued by division, unrest, political differences, wars, violence, hatred, and uncertainty, we will pause for one day and set aside our problems to focus on our many blessings. Because it is customary to have a bountiful table of food whenever families gather to celebrate any occasion, we want to participate and share the day with loved ones.
Planes, trains, and automobiles transport visitors back to wherever they call home as the flurry of preparations commence. Lists are made, guests are invited, tables are set, silver is polished, and family recipes get dusted off and lovingly created for this annual celebration.
I still think it would be a wonderful idea to have four-legged turkeys so that drumstick aficionados like me could eat their fill every Thanksgiving. My husband’s mother liked the wings, and I got the legs, so we were delighted to leave the rest of the bird for the other family members as we happily gnawed our way to our hearts’ content.
Because my husband’s family moved to Tennessee from New York when my husband was a teenager, they had their own traditions that they brought with them as they crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
Fully expecting to encounter barefoot, guitar-picking residents upon their arrival in Tennessee, his mother hid her prized turkey platter safely in her suitcase. (It now resides in our china closet awaiting the fourth Thursday of November.)
While I grew up eating southern cornbread dressing baked in a pan, my in-laws were used to stuffing the turkey with bread, onions, celery, and other unknown ingredients. I sampled it one year, but the consistency and seasonings did not meet with the approval of my “southern upbringing.”
Hence, every year I would make my great aunt’s cornbread recipe, which got some rather scornful glances around the dinner table, as my feet were checked for shoes, but our children always took healthy portions of each rendition, and peace reigned.
My daddy hated the taste of sage and was not too fond of cornbread, so my ingenious mother devised a recipe for his taste. It contained ground beef and sausage, some biscuits and bagged stuffing mix, but no sage. She would make patties from this mixture and bake them on a cookie sheet. The aroma of the turkey in the oven and that concoction permeated every inch of our home and our souls.
My brother and I loved to top our day-after Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches with one of those patties and felt deep remorse that we did not get to enjoy them but once a year. Unfortunately, because she knew the recipe by heart, my mother never wrote it down so when she left this earth, her list of ingredients and directions died with her.
I quizzed some of our female relatives who remembered what I wanted but had no idea of what went into making them. Our beloved housekeeper, who knew most of Mama’s culinary secrets, gave me a rough idea of what went into them, but it was not enough for me to attempt it.
Fortunately, my aunt found a recipe that seemed close. The first year was a trial run, and every subsequent year, I have added, subtracted, improvised, and experimented until I have finally achieved some semblance of our unique holiday dish.
While many of us are fortunate enough to be with our families, sharing a feast, others are alone, hungry, cold, and dejected but still finding blessings in their existence and reasons to be thankful. President Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Live gratefully every day.