By Michele Thomas
"You're just like your Aunt Margaret," my mother used to say. That's because I like to bake, just like Aunt Margaret did. My mother had three sisters, all outstanding cooks, but Aunt Margaret was recognized by the entire family for her achievements in the kitchen. She followed Julia Child's recipes and nothing was too complicated for her to tackle.
Mom and I would stop by her house before a major holiday just to see the display and hope for a taste. Her kitchen counters and table were wall-to-wall baked goods. Croissants, cookies, her famous Kirsch cake and strawberry cream pies were lined up waiting to be someone's dessert. There was always extra for us to take home.
A week ago I would have told you that Rick and I were going to spend a quiet Thanksgiving alone. His children are in Germany and Idaho. Mine, although closer in Portland, Salem and Grants Pass, Ore., all had obligations that made it difficult for them to travel. I was resigned to sitting out this Thanksgiving. Then, last Sunday, my son Collin called and said, "Better get the turkey, we're coming!"
Rick and I are vegetarians now, but Sunday afternoon I bought a free-range organic turkey and pork sausage for the stuffing. I filled my shopping cart with ingredients. I baked cranberry and pumpkins breads and various cookies that went into the freezer. It seemed a bit over the top for a party of 4, but I couldn't stop myself.
Tuesday night, my phone rang. My son in Salem said he and his wife were driving to Crescent City after they got off work Wednesday. "I have to be back to work at 7:00 Friday morning, but we're coming," he said.
Looking back on favorite Thanksgivings is like watching a carousel. Just as you start to focus on one, it moves around the corner and another one comes into view. I've been through 57 Thanksgivings now, 30 of them with children, and there's not one that stands out above the rest, but all make me smile. My childhood memories are of aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom are gone now, gathered at the table in animated conversation, passing platters of food.
As a young wife and mother in Hawaii I included friends who didn't have family nearby. We barbequed the turkey and ate dinner out on the lanai. Years later in Grants Pass, when my sons were teens, we extended an invitation to our neighbor Rosie, whose husband had passed away in early November. She sends me a Christmas card every year with a note reminiscing about how special that Thanksgiving dinner was. Many Thanksgivings in different cities, different kitchens, with different people, but two constants ramain: family and food.
You should have seen me Wednesday evening. Loaves of French bread, pumpkin pie, a homemade pizza (had to have something when they all arrived late Wednesday night) and dozens of cookies flew in and out of my convection oven. I was Aunt Margaret reincarnated.
I hope your Thanksgiving was your kind of perfect, as mine was. I have to admit that when my son and daughter-in-law drove out of the driveway (with a cooler of leftovers), I went upstairs and took a three-hour nap. But the baking and bustling paid big dividends. When we went around the table, as we always do before we begin Thanksgiving dinner, saying what we're thankful for, the boys did not let me down. "I'm thankful to be here, " they said, "It's all about the turkey."