My parents are both Canadian-born, and hence, never really celebrated Thanksgiving in the Norman Rockwell/American style that the November edition of every ladies magazine touts. Sure we had a delicious turkey with my dad’s amazing stuffing (complete with chopped gizzards which he insisted were merely mushrooms!), but our celebration was little more than a glorified weekday dinner (translation: plenty of food served family style to myself, my parents and my siblings, which was devoured within about 15 minutes)!
Then I married into a New England-based family and discovered what Thanksgiving could be like. Let me set the stage for you. First of all I arrived in Middleboro, MA, (the neighboring town to the Pilgrims’ Plymouth), to visit my husband’s family home. Imagine a charming 200 year old Cape Cod style home, clad in weathered cedar shingles and accented with cranberry hued trim and front door. An ancient split rail fence separated the adjacent country road from the sprawling property, which was speckled with huge rhododendrons, gnarled magnolia trees, and too many evergreens to count.
When I entered the home, I was welcomed with greetings hollered from the kitchen, the sound of Thanksgiving Day football games emanating from the TV in the family room, and a melange of intoxicating food aromas which permeated every part of the home. I made my way to the kitchen, and found a relatively small prep area about to explode with pots and pans and plates of baked goodies on every countertop. There was an enormous turkey, (sporting the most perfect hue of caramel), cooling on the butcher block, and there were half a dozen friends and relatives milling throughout the kitchen. Some were sneaking a bite of one treat or another, others were pitching in by mashing the potatoes, peeling the turnips or slicing the bread, and some were just being part of the action by engaging the cooks in active conversation.
My new mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law huddled in front of the stove, engaged in some sort of debate, which appeared to be as intense as the SALT talks to me. As I got close enough to hear their discussion, I realized that they were debating the merits of one turkey gravy recipe versus another. As heated as the discussion was, it struck me as being a very well choreographed ballet. For every positive thing that was attributed to one recipe, an equally good point was offered on behalf of the second recipe. Ultimately, an incredibly savory turkey gravy was created by these two women, and everybody complimented them on their success.
The rest of the day was like a Norman Rockwell creation —- friends, family, food, and sentiment, all in excessive quantities —- which I will write more about it in a future article. So, when I prepared to visit for Thanksgiving the following year, it was with much enthusiasm. My mouth was already watering at the thought of the delicious meal that was awaiting me, and I was looking forward to enjoying the camaraderie, now that I was no longer a newbie.
Once again, I was greeted by the hollered greetings, the football game on TV and the delicious fragrances. Imagine my surprise when I entered the kitchen to discover another episode of the SALT talks! I swear, the debate was verbatim from the prior year —- it truly was a choreographed dance — and again, the gravy was to die for.
Over time, I learned from my husband that the “Gravy Dance” was performed year after year. It was a way for these two women to find a commonality in a world of differences, and to ensure continuity for the one thing that they both loved — their family. So you may be asking yourself, “What the heck does the Gravy Dance have to do with entertaining?!” My answer is this: We live in a transient world. There are Hollywood ideals of what life should be like, and too often we get sucked into their molds. But what’s truly important is that we make the choices which will cause people to feel welcome, to feel needed, and to create continuity and tradition for whomever we care about.