Singing an American Tune

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower

We come on the ship that sailed the moon

We come in the age’s most uncertain hour

And sing an American tune

Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right

It’s all right, it’s all right

You can’t be forever blessed

Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day

And I’m trying to get some rest

That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.”

–Paul Simon, “An American Tune”

 

“In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest;

Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place—not for another hour, but this hour.”

–Walt Whitman, “Carol of Occupations,” Leaves of GrassPreparation, Anticipation

  1. Preparation, Anticipation:

I don’t feel as organized this year,

distracted by the election, by the news, by work

and this and that,

still, I cook applesauce, bake challah and pumpkin bread,

15134779_10211435397424226_4387097161144114661_n

placing them in the freezer to wait for the holiday,

I make mushroom gravy,

(which, by the way, is delicious)

while listening to “Hamilton,”

dancing around the kitchen,

grandchild of immigrants,

I sing an American tune,

preparing for this holiday of food and gratefulness.

 

Two days before Thanksgiving

younger daughter comes over to break bread for stuffing,

packages of sliced white bread

(stuff I would never buy to eat),

it’s what we have always used for stuffing

a family tradition for this family holiday.

My sister and I used to break bread while watching

Thanksgiving parades,

then–long ago–my mother made the stuffing,

but time passes the tradition baton to the next generation,

or, perhaps a different metaphor,

a page turned in a book,

the story continues, characters die, new ones appear,

the plot changes, and who knows how it will end?

But we are here in this hour, in this story, happy and grateful.

 

We watch an old episode of Gilmore Girls,

It is Thanksgiving in Stars Hollow,

mother and daughter—them, not us—

eat four Thanksgiving dinners in one day.

We laugh, as we break the bread into small pieces,

letting them fall, filling my huge stock pot

(did I mention we like stuffing?)

and try to imagine eating four Thanksgiving meals.

H. calls later that night,

Did the cranberry sauce jell last year? I’m trying to figure out how long it needs to cook?

Cooking is not an exact science with us,

it’s done by taste and feel,

with sometimes a ghost or two hovering nearby

they whisper in our heads,

You do it like that.

Remember that time?

 

At H’s house, on Thanksgiving Eve, there is a family cranberry sauce making activity.

I have given her the cherished squirrel mold,

and with my 94-year-old mother in attendance,

they cook, strain, and pour the mixture in the mold.

15202503_10209931107410340_4716288589246448248_n

  1. The Holiday Meal

On Thanksgiving, here at my house,

my sister-in-law unmolds the sauce.

“You do it once, and it becomes your job,” she says,

 

It takes three of us to wrangle the cooked turkey onto the board to carve it.

Wine opening, similarly becomes a joint effort

after the corkscrew breaks and the cork is shredded on two bottles.

But we need wine at Thanksgiving,

and where there’s a will, there’s a way–

with a new corkscrew and bit of muscle.

 

To my mom:”Are you okay, do you need anything?”

Reply, “Life is good, I just finished my wine.”

15171128_10209940967936847_7321537677719863845_n

Food and conversation flow around the table

(like the wine)

tidbits of both, chewed, swallowed, or scattered like crumbs,

we all say we miss our older daughter and her wife,

but they will be with us next year,

we tease my great-niece about her boyfriend

We’re only in seventh grade!

We laugh when my great nephew exclaims,

“That’s why we’re sisters!”

(and then realizes what he said).

We have discussions about other Thanksgiving meals,

younger daughter has made mashed rutabaga

for her daddy because his grandmother used to make it,

there is mention of carb-free Thanksgivings–

a group shudder, unthinkable.

 

We discuss my mother’s mother’s cooking.

she koshered the meat, salting it till it was too dry to eat,

my older sister says,

but she was a good baker, my sister says,

“She excelled at carbs!”

We eat, we drink, we are more stuffed than the Thanksgiving turkey,

and there is still dessert–

img_4767

 

But it’s all right, it’s all right,

it’s part of the American tune,

songs of many cultures,

songs of immigrants,

songs of many types of love,

because love is love–

I am so grateful for this family.

15202649_10211435395944189_8721769698446074243_n

Then it’s over, everyone leaves,

the hiding cat reappears

My husband, designated driver and dishwasher, texts me that he’s stuck in traffic

I put “Hamilton” on again

dance around the kitchen while I take care of dishes

And then it’s time to get some rest.

 

  1. The Day After

Younger daughter comes over to watch the NEW Gilmore Girls series.

We are so excited,

we eat Thanksgiving leftovers–and watch the entire series,

Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Gilmore Girls practically demands binge watching and binge eating,

we do our part.

Happiness in this hour,

and the next

and the next

(stopping to make coffee and get some pie)

img_4783

 

Ghosts from the past on the TV screen,

ghosts from our past, too,

before daughters were grown and married.

Time has marched on for both our families—the Gilmore’s and my own,

people lost, and people added to the family,

traditions continue,

traditions evolve,

life comes full circle,

but still

there is happiness in this time,

in this place,

it’s an American tune

and after the holiday is over

it’s time to get some rest.

 

 

 

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51 thoughts on “Singing an American Tune

  1. Lovely, Merril. We too had many cooks, and also some last minute guests craving a home-cooked meal. That’s Thanksgiving, people coming together to celebrate being together, and you, as always, have captured it so well. (K)

  2. Happy Thanksgiving, Merril and thanks for inviting us all over to join you. I was particularly intrigued to see the cranberry sauce in the squirrel mold. Is that a traditional American thing or something just your family does? It’s hard to make those distinctions when you’re so far away. Looks like a lovely family time with so much to be thankful for.
    I spent awhile on the phone to my Mum tonight who has become quite frail since the problem with her back and all of a sudden I feel us all transitioning and hope it’s temporary but how long can we all hold out?
    Your Mum looks like she had a fabulous day and having those moments with your daughters are priceless.
    Hope you have a great week!
    xx Rowena

    • Hi Rowena–hope your Mom gets her strength back soon!
      Cranberry sauce is traditional for Thanksgiving, but many people simply buy it already made. The squirrel mold is a tradition within our family. I’ve written about it so many times already, so I didn’t want to go into great detail about it again.
      I missed not having our older daughter here. She and her wife alternate spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with us and her wife’s family. So they will be here at Christmas time this year, which works out, since Hanukkah is at the same time this year! 🙂

      • I feel those empty seats at the table too. My Mum wasn’t able to go to Geoff’s 50th Birthday dinner and we went to a restaurant she loves but we did see her beforehand and I was able to compartmentalise those feelings. Didn’t do such a good job of that last night and had a terrible nightmare where the Jacaranda trees seemed to become possessed. I still remember these crazy arms of purple flowers lashing around in the storm. I was lying on the ground and huge branches were falling around me. It was quite apocalyptic.

  3. Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving, Merril. I could have inserted my family every step of the way. I chuckled over the “do the job once and it’s yours” line. That’s how gravy became my job. And I must admit it was particularly good this year. Where you and I differ is that at the end of the day, I am in no position to dance around the kitchen. I was ready – and needed to – put my feet up and be in total quiet for a while. 😉

    • Thanks, Carol. I’m sure your gravy is amazing!
      I was exhausted by the time everyone left–I’d been up since about 5:15, and it was about 9 PM. That’s why I put “Hamilton” back on–to get enough energy to tackle the rest of the dishes. (My husband had done much of the clean up already.)

  4. John Williams and Aaron Copland (if he were alive) could do a fabulous job of making your tale into an operetta: plot, the story is all there. Seriously!

    Te Downton Abbey marathon was on this weekend – again. I watched a lot of it, but not enough to say I binge watched. They are sure milking that cash cow.

    As to the “Do the job once and it’s yours” line, I’m with Carol on the gravy-making. Cornstarch with cold water and good broth with giblets is my secret.

    Your family is certainly making memories in the kitchen and you, recording them warmly in this space.

    • Thanks so much, Marian. I’m trying to imagine John Williams or Aaron Copland being interested in this, but I do so appreciate your praise!
      I haven’t re-watched Downton Abbey, but I’m sure it would be difficult to tear myself away if I did.
      I’m sure your gravy is delicious, and I’m certain everyone enjoyed it! I agree that good stock is essential–I made both turkey and vegetable and two gravies. 🙂

  5. Oh my…was I at your house or mine? Because this gorgeous day sounds an awful lot like mine, substitute your blood family for two of the women who have become mine. One of those friends sent us other two the link to this post (thanks, Jadi!) and I’m warmed further having read it.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. What lovely (and loving) tribute to family, traditions, Thanksgiving, and more. I made mashed rutabaga for the first time this year. It is a favorite of my father’s, and it’s a tradition that someone make it now that my mother isn’t here to do so. My younger sister has had the job since Mom died, but as host of the family Thanksgiving gathering this year, it fell to me to do it. I wonder if anyone will eat mashed rutabaga once my father dies? My sister might. I might. It’s not bad. I could grow to like it. 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin.
      I wasn’t a big fan of the mashed rutabaga. It wasn’t awful, but I would never make it. It was kind of our daughter to think of it for her dad, and she was trying to make it close to how my grandmother-in-law would have made it.

  7. I chuckled at “do the job once and it’s yours” too. My brother-in-law is the gravy maker and did the honors this year. I was the turkey carver. Usually I am also the mashed potato maker, but my son did the honors this year. Coming in from Minnesota just days before the holiday, I felt a little unlike the hostess, but fortunately, my family has lots of cooks and bakers, and we all worked together. Yum!

    Your poem is a lovely braiding of American history and family traditions. I enjoyed seeing the picture of your mother with the empty wine glass. I would love to watch those GG episodes. Especially with my daughter. Maybe next Thanksgiving.

    • Thank you, Shirley. It sounds like your Thanksgiving was wonderful, even though you’ve been away from home.
      The wonders of Netflix, Shirley–you can watch the episodes when you’re ready. 🙂

  8. Happy festivities to you and yours! I was pleased to see your mother looking as peaceful and happy as my Mom was over this past holiday. We are so blessed to still have them around. ❤
    Your husband fits right into the mix of strong, beautiful women as well as great nephew. 🙂
    The carbs are necessary! I just ate pie and it is past ten o'clock!
    I am so jealous, Merril! I was so excited about the four seasons of the Gilmore Girls coming out, even have two magazines saved with their faces and cast members. . . but my youngest daughter who graduated college in 2008, says we must watch, "La La Land," for our celebration of her 31st birthday this weekend. Shoot! I am possibly going to get my DIL, Trista "on board!" They have Netflix, I don't.
    Thank you for your kind and special messages. Hopefully, I left you wishes for a happy Thanksgiving, too. I didn't realize Paul Simon wrote songs for "Hamilton?"
    We toasted Mom with her favorite Spanish (Sangria or Lambrusco) words, my DIL, two daughters, son and my brother, Randy. It was great "breaking bread" tonight with you, between bites of my pie, with your sweet words here.

    • Thanks, Robin. We are both fortunate to have our mothers around.
      I am eager to see La La Land, but I didn’t think it was coming out till a bit later in December. I’ve already told my husband that it’s my birthday movie, so I totally agree with your daughter. 🙂
      I didn’t mean to imply that Paul Simon wrote songs for “Hamilton.” No, he wrote “American Tune,” which is not in Hamilton.
      Hope you enjoyed your pie!

      • Oh, since I didn’t know the complete list of songs from “Hamilton” (I have only heard Tony nominated songs and was pleased with popular awards which also nominated Hamilton and they shared a medley of the songs.) I actually don’t know who wrote this musical. Funny fact, I guess!
        For the new children’s animated movie, “Moana,” (I believe) the main male Hamilton character wrote a song for it. We loved ❤ this film, my son, his M & M girls and my oldest daughter's youngest son, Micah, and I went to see it. So happy they had a native Pacific Island Girl sing and play the leading role.
        As far as Holly and her fine recommendation of, "I Remember Mama" is true story of a Scandinavian family in San Francisco based on a memoir written by Kathryn Forbes, (possibly titled, "Mamas Bank Account.")
        My Mom and Grandma loved the film and the leading actress was Irene Dunne. 🙂
        From later in her life, on TV series, "Dallas," one of the roles is played by Barbara Bel Geddes. I need to head off to bed, so have a great rest of the week!

      • Thanks for the info, Robin.
        If you can find the PBS documentary on the making of “Hamilton,” it is definitely worthwhile viewing. It goes through Lin Manual Miranda’s journey in writing the show and it also goes through the show itself. And then buy the soundtrack. 🙂

      • Merril, I think I could borrow the soundtrack from the library! I am hoping they will get the Gilmore Girls last 4 seasons eventually, too. 🙂 Just as I tell authors, musicians and artists on blogs I follow, I cannot spare more than an inch or so in each of my TWO closets and one bedroom! I do write out library requisition forms for authors I enjoy here. Out of thirty requests last year alone, they only ordered one of them. It was by Christoph Fischer, his war and revolution book with three friends whose intertwined lives span years.
        I walk to the library almost every week, to borrow movies, games, adult coloring books, books and music. 🙂

      • Oh yes, I would think your library would have the Hamilton soundtrack. Perhaps they will get the PBS documentary at some point, too, though it might still be on PBS online. I don’t know how Netflix works with putting out DVDs of the shows–we only have the streaming service. Some Netflix plans allow multiple users–just saying. 🙂 I love my local library,too, though I haven’t been there as often recently.

  9. Absolutely enchanting. Aw, your baked breads look so good, and I loved the cranberry squirrel! What fun your mom is with her glass of wine 😀 I know what you mean about feeling distracted by the election, but thank God for family. xo

  10. splendid capture of the flow of holiday gatherings…and every tradition was at one time a new way of doing things.

    Just out of curiosity…what did you think of the Gilmore Girls revisited. I haven’t seen it yet, but came across a WaPo article whose title “Rory Gilmore is a monster” grabbed my attention.

    • Thank you, Doug. We have a good time with our traditions.
      I understand the criticism of Rory–after all she is 32 at this point–but I still liked the show. It was still Stars Hollow, and Rory and Lorelai still had rapid-fire conversations and ate incredible amounts of food– and there was Kirk and Paris and Michele. . .

  11. Hi I’m new to the blogging life and was wondering if you could read my work and follow me I’d appreciate it as i am interested in literature and spoken word and lack a bit of confidence Thank you for your time and have a nice day

    • Hi Serendipity. The best way to get people to read your posts is to keep reading other blogs and comment on them. Perhaps participate in blogger challenges. It takes time. Good luck.

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