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,

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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.

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  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.”

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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–

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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.

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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)

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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.

 

 

 

Hope in a List

List Making

List Making (Photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina})

“The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.”
–Umberto Eco

Hi. I’m Merril, and I’m a list-maker. My day usually begins with me making a list while I drink my coffee and read the newspaper. The list invariably includes a combination of daily routine tasks, such as emptying the litter box, which always get crossed-off—YAY!–and work-related items, phone calls I need to make or emails I need to send, appointments, and food I plan to prepare that sometimes get crossed-off.  Today’s list includes, “make sauce and lasagna” and “boil wheat berries.” Both of those items are done and crossed-off. Unfortunately, the work assignments are not. Sigh.

I often make several lists for the day. One list is my general list, as described above. The others specify what I need to do for projects I’m working on.  Sometimes I even write, “Make a list” on my to-do list.  Since I am currently working on encyclopedia projects, I’ve been adding more make list items to my lists. Recently, I’ve had bullet points such as “Finish List of Headwords” (crossed-off) and “Organize Lists of Contributors” on my lists (not crossed-off).

When we host holiday dinners, my list making goes into overdrive. I make menu lists, shopping lists, order of preparation and cooking lists, and house cleaning lists. Passover is coming up in a month, and I’m already thinking about my lists. Remind me to put “Make Passover lists” on my list.

I wonder if list making runs in families? (Hmmm. . .I will have to add Googling that to my list.) My daughters make lists regularly, and at least one of my sisters does, too. (My younger daughter also cuts up index cards into small squares and writes study notes on them. My dad did the same thing when he was in grad school—something she never saw or knew about.)

People are fascinated by lists.  You can find compilations of lists on almost any topics. There are even books devoted to lists.

Paul Simon’s song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a hit in 1975. It did not actually list fifty ways, but it did include some:

“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan,”

Diary entries often list what a person accomplished that day—more of a “done” list than a “to-do” list.  For example, in May 17, 1809, Maine midwife Martha Ballard noted that she had “Planted long squash by the hogg pen, sowd pepper grass, sett sage and other roots,” along with her other chores.  She was kind of a super woman. If she made lists, I bet everything got crossed-off every day.

Some people view to-do lists with dread, but I don’t. Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—.”

Perhaps it is my optimistic nature, but I think of my lists as bits of hope. When I prepare a list at the start of the day, I am anticipating all that I might do, or hope to do, as well as what I have to do.  Each task that I complete gets crossed-off. If I don’t finish them all, I just add them to the next day’s list. Some of the items I put on my list are so general—“Work on book” that I know they will not really be completed. But you know what? That’s OK, too. I know it will get done eventually. I have hope, and it perches in my soul, always.