“Oh, George, it’s a Thanksgiving miracle.”
The Pilgrims got Thanksgiving started way back in 1621, but actually in October, not November. No one wrote it down in their calendar, so the exact date is unknown. They didn’t have a second Thanksgiving until many years later, when some bright colonist said, “Hey, remember that great party we had with the Indians? Why don’t we do that again? After all, these guys didn’t build a wall to keep us out.” In the course of things, Thanksgiving migrated to the last Thursday of November.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been president for eight years, he contemplated running for an unprecedented third term. He tested the mood of the American public by moving Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November. Everyone hated it because it meant that they had to spend a longer time shopping for Christmas presents, but they reelected FDR anyway, and, in gratitude, he moved Thanksgiving backward (forward?) to the fourth Thursday, when we now celebrate it.
Thanksgiving is a day to remember the past, when I get out those little penny postcards that my mother wrote recipes on, and prepare her sausage stuffing, and bake her apple pie (but not her meringue).
The family story was that Nurse Vivian was a lousy cook. When she worked in the kitchen of Kings County Hospital, every single patient sent back the dessert she made. The director asked what the problem was, and she said, “I made the Jell-O exactly as it said on the box. And I remembered to butter every mold before I poured it in.”
After Nurse Vivian married Pop, Grandma Sadie told him that he should have married Helen instead because she was a much better cook. So Aunt Mildred and Nurse Vivian sneaked into Grandma Sadie’s kitchen late one night and copied over her recipe book on penny postcards. This was my inheritance from Nurse Vivian, these yellowed cards with inscrutable clues: “Add four ts of sugar.” Teaspoons? Tablespoons? Tubs? “Brown onions until nice.” How nice is nice, and can an onion really be nice? “Do not touch with your hands.” Ever?
Fisher-Paulson family Thanksgiving
I intend on leaving the same mysteries for Zane, so that when I pass on, he too will not be able to duplicate my mother’s meringue. He too will wonder what “coco- n” means. I’ve added my own recipes, such as the “DEFCON Four Chili” and, like her, I’ve “forgotten” an ingredient or two.
Thanksgiving is also a day to embrace the present. We don’t forget Nurse Vivian or Uncle Tim or the triplets, but we celebrate those with us: Maureen and Maya, and the SASBs, and Aunt JJ. The other gay parents in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, the lesbian ones, have come with a bottle of Baileys in hand for half a dozen years now. Two Thankgivings in the blue bungalow make you family.
This Thanksgiving we celebrate Papa, who has gotten up at 5 in the morning for 31 years to bake bread, on the one day that he’s not rehearsing the “Nutcracker Sweets.” He then spends an hour dragging out tables and rocking chairs and arranges the Currier & Ives plates with the not-matching Batman Pepsi glasses.
We celebrate Uncle Jon, who will, no doubt, spend Wednesday night assembling the seven Ikea chairs we bought because even though the serving dishes might not match, Papa cannot abide anyone sitting on a folding chair.
We celebrate Zane and Aidan, who walk down to Cordova Market when I cannot find the turkey baster that I only use once a year. We celebrate Krypto, Buddyboy and Bandit, who will navigate between 18 pairs of legs in our crowded dining room, ready to pounce on any dropped turkey.
This year we also celebrate you, the best readers in the world. Last week’s column was all about the Snacky Dinner, and since then Aidan has failed two tests, Zane has ridden the edge of a suspension and the guy who we just elected vice president has been looking to invalidate my marriage, so instead of snacky, I was ready for a snarky dinner.
But I’ve been blessed to get many emails from you, and once even a box of crayons, and it gladdens my heart to know that you who are bearing witness to our journey have found some hope and some joy in that pilgrimage.
Some days the only way I can understand this road is to tell its story. I’m grateful that you let me tell it.
Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.