Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday reminscin' 3: The year my dad cooked Thanksgiving dinner

Picture it: Northern California, 1986. I was seven; my sister was four. It was late November and my mom was extraordinarily pregnant with our youngest sibling. Some years we went to Southern California for Thanksgiving to visit with my dad's family, but that year my mom was too pregnant to travel. She was due to give birth sometime in the first week of December.

My mom, ever prepared, had done quite a bit of the Thanksgiving food shopping already. I'm not entirely sure how she did it every year, but the years we stayed home and didn't have T-day with relatives, my mom managed to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal in our tiny kitchen with no working oven (we had a stovetop and a large toaster oven; it is, actually, possible to cook a turkey in a toaster oven). Just imagine the work and preparation it took to cook all that food with a toaster oven, baking one thing at a time: pies, stuffing, turkey, all the elements that needed to come together to have dinner done on time. I was just starting in on my personal learning-to-cook journey (I was doing things like baking cookies, six at a time in the toaster oven, but hadn't gotten to the point where I could be trusted yet with a knife). My dad? He didn't cook. Didn't know how.

Two days before Thanksgiving (or, to be more precise, very early the morning of the day before Thanksgiving) my mom went into labor. She knew right away that her labor wasn't going to be long like the other two, so she and my dad called a couple of neighbors so one of them could stay with us, and they woke me up to tell me they were going to the hospital. At the time I slept in a lofted bed, with a homemade guard rail that I knew would hold my weight if I leaned against it and reached down to kiss my mom goodbye. When my sister and I woke up in the morning, our neighbor (the one who liked to mow his orchard nekkid) was there cooking us pancakes in the cast iron skillet. "Your dad called," he told us. "You have a new little sister. Her name is Laurel."

My mom had only been in labor a very short time before my sister was born. Actually, the way she tells it, they called the doctor on the way to the hospital, who told them he was on his way. My mom checked in, filled out paperwork, and got set up in the hospital bed, and was very concerned that the doctor wouldn't show up on time. He walked in, pulling on his gloves, just as my sister was crowning - so just in time to catch her. My sister was the smallest of the three of us at 7 pounds 13 ounces, born with dark brown hair and brown eyes.

A few hours after breakfast, my dad came home. He took my sister and I out into the forest and we looked and looked to find a baby bay laurel tree for the new addition (being hippies, my parents buried our placentas under baby trees for each of us after birth. My Douglas Fir is now about 20 feet tall and no longer mobile, as it's grown through its container into the ground). We finally found the smallest one we'd seen, just a few leaves high, dug it up and brought it home. Then we got dressed in whatever we felt like wearing and my dad took us to the hospital to see my mom and the baby.

The photos from that hospital visit are interesting. My dad holding Laurel with Lissa and I grinning, both wearing really strange outfits (it's late November and Lissa is wearing a sundress and rainboots). I guess my dad didn't pay attention or didn't care what we wore; he just wanted to get us there to meet our sister. I remember my mom loooking tired and happy. I remember Laurel screaming (she did that with great regularity for at least a year; in fact, we have very few baby pictures of her NOT crying - poor colicky baby). My mom would be coming home from the hospital the next day - which was Thanksgiving.

Obviously, with a one-day old newborn my mom was not going to be cooking. I was only seven and didn't know much about cooking yet. So it was up to my dad to get Thanksgiving dinner together - and to his credit, somehow I think he mostly managed it. We didn't have homemade pie that year (we probably had chocolate almond cookies instead), and I think we had green beans out of a can. But I know we had turkey, and yams with marshmallows, and some sort of stuffing. My mom came home in the morning and was in bed with the baby all day, so my dad pretty much did everything. It was also a rainy Thanksgiving, and I think the power went out after dinner so we ate dessert by candlelight. I wish I remember this day better, because I think it was a pretty good one for our family - the first time my dad ever made dinner, and it was Thanksgiving at that, plus, I had a new little sister. She doesn't make nearly as much noise as she used to, and a week from today she turns 21.

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