Whether we like it or not, November is the start of all those family get-togethers. It’s off to grandmother’s house or to visit the new in-laws.
When I was a child, we would always go to my grandparents’ house in the country. The old wooden house had a black iron stove so large that it heated the entire back side of the house.
I don’ know how my grandmother managed to cook on that stove, but those Thanksgiving dinners were always cooked to perfection. The menu was always the same: turkey and dressing, sweet potato pie, cranberry sauce, collard greens and corn bread. Just writing about that food is making me hungry.
The drive to my grandparents’ home meant getting up very early in the very cold morning. I was the young cousin in the house, until the other relatives arrived.
As I grew older, I was so grateful for the those happy days I spent with my grandparents in that old wooden house in the down woods of Troy, Ala.
When I graduated from college I decided to spend my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I went with friends to a Detroit Lions game — my first NFL game.
It snowed that day and was freezing cold. The people I was with brought food, but I didn’t like it.
Even in a football stadium filled with fans, I felt miserably alone. I missed my family, and right then and there I decided I would never miss another Thanksgiving with family.
And I never did. For me, family is very important.
I look at Thanksgiving as a time to give thanks for the past year’s blessings. It’s also a time to welcome new family members into the fold. They need to get to know you and you need to get to know them.
Many years ago, one of my cousins married a young woman from Alaska. A Native American, she had never had her photo taken with a camera that had a flash. When we were taking pictures, she would get up and run out of the room. In her culture, flash bulbs were to be avoided.
I learned something important that first Thanksgiving with her: If you are open to learning about others, it can be a wonderful experience.
I never thought I would marry a person not of my culture and upbringing. But I did, and I am pleased to have done so.
The first time I met my husband’s parents, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did know that my mother-law was very ill, so we cooked an all-American Thanksgiving, with a little Puerto Rican flair.
Sadly, my mother-law died before she could teach me to cook the dishes that my husband grew up eating. However, I was determined to learn and learn I did.
For Thanksgiving dinner three years ago, I purchased a cookbook by Carmen Adoy, "A Puerto Rican Cookery."
Our dinner featured turkey, but with a new twist. We had a stuffing made with wine (there was no one under 21 at our dinner), along with Plantain Aranitas (plaintain fritters), Funche de Maiz Filo (made with cornmeal), Souffle do Eparragos (Asparagus Souffle), and Dona Carmen’s Fruit Cake (Bizcocho de Pascua). I love fruitcake; some people do not, but fruit seems to be a feature in every culture. This was the first time I had even attempted to make this cake. There are also special traditions that my husband’s family follows. At dinner, we play games and wear the same color of clothing. When I visited his brother’s home one Thanksgiving, everyone wore red and black.
I wondered why and was told it was to show family unity. What a lovely tradition.
I have learned to appreciate differences as well as what all families share. I may not become a gourmet cook, but I have a lifetime to improve. Thank goodness for cookbooks and the Internet and the 800 number on the turkey wrapping.
This year, I plan to attend my college homecoming game, so I will have Thanksgiving at someone else’s table. I know I will eat more than I should.
Dorothy Frazier Piedrahita welcomes reader comments. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.