Deb and I had a nice little Thanksgiving feast together at home Thursday, before getting together with the kids a couple of days later when we could all coordinate our schedules.
We had the standards: roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, a fruit salad and dessert salad, along with a corny-noodle casserole (Sorry, I don’t care much for green been casserole.). It was topped off with some pumpkin pie and Cool Whip.
As we gorged at the table while watching some NFL, just like those days when the house was full, we started talking about how so many of our holiday memories are tied to food.
From my own childhood, I hark back to the Spritz butter cookies, especially when mom let me run the dough through the different shapes in the press to form my own cookies. Then a few colored sprinkles on the top.
My mother also made a couple of desserts I still crave — one was a blueberry cream dessert topped with graham cracker crumbs, and the other was a pink strawberry ice cream pie.
Most of us have the same memories of the main entrees, such as the turkey and whipped potatoes. So, it’s the side dishes and desserts that make for the distinct family traditions you carry through your lifetime.
Our sons mentioned things like the green-dyed corn flake Christmas wreaths Deb made every December, cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole (they branched out more than dad) and mom’s luscious Scotcheroos.
One of my fondest holiday memories when the kids were young was watching them decorate individual sugar cookies with multi-colored frosting. They got pretty creative. You almost hated to eat some of them, like they were works of art.
Just the simple act of watching them grab a new batch of warm cookies out of the oven and applying their individual touch to the frosting task was heartwarming, as mom played Christmas music in the background. Those are times I’ll always treasure.
Now I can’t wait to get our grandson Sage into our house someday to recreate some of those moments!
When bad things happen around the holidays, especially at big family gatherings, those memories seem to stick, as well.
I’ll still never forget standing in line to fill my plate at my parents’ house in Fort Dodge on New Years Day in 1973 when my older cousin Doug Granner told me that Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash in Puerto Rico the night before.
I was 15 years old and a huge baseball fan. I just kind of stood there in shock, instead of piling food on my plate. (There was no Internet, no Twitter or Facebook. The crash had occurred past deadline of the Fort Dodge Messenger, I presume, so I had no idea.)
Later in life, the tough news hit closer to home. Both my mom (1993) and Deb’s father (1999) died right around Christmas, which always puts a slight damper on those days that used to be filled with nothing but joy and the fun of kids opening gifts. And, despite the fact the hospital meal services are usually terrific, a holiday memory gained in the hospital diner generally isn’t a pleasant one.
Then, in 2011, as I was flying with family to visit our son Brett and wife Shawna in Nashville to celebrate New Years Eve in Music City, I had to abruptly change flights back to Kansas City upon receiving word that my sister Alice, fighting cancer, had taken a bad turn. She had only hours left.
I spent that New Years holiday in a Blue Springs hospital watching her take her final breaths, at age 64. I’m 60 now, so that doesn’t seem very old. It’s hard to get through a New Years Day without thinking of that day.
So, as we get older, the holidays don’t always remind us of the good times.
But, sample some of those favorite foods again when you get the chance, and it just may unlock the doors to a cavern of fond memories. And they can be pretty special.
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