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.

 

 

 

It Snowed and Snowed: I Can See Russia

Monday Morning Musings:

Another post based on lines taken from other works.

“It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,

Snow swept the world from end to end.

A candle burned on the table;

A candle burned.”

–Boris Pasternak, from “Winter Night,” Doctor Zhivago

 

“When the snow flies and the night falls

There’s a light in the window and a place called home

At the end of the storm.”

Judy Collins, “The Blizzard”*

The snow flies and the night falls

Reminding me of winters past,

Of other seas of white,

The time it snowed

When our girls were young

And school was closed for a week.

They played, and I baked

Cookies, and donuts, and bread.

We drank hot chocolate

Ate cinnamon toast

And read books.

It was cold outside, but

It was cozy and warm

Inside,

A place called home.

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The snow flies, and I can see Russia

In my mind. I think of Dr. Zhivago

Trudging, stumbling through the blizzard,

Blanketed in an icy layer of white

Nearly dead

Finding Lara and warmth.

The stunning cinematography of the movie**

Who can forget

The movie images of the country house?

Surfaces a frosty filigree

A beautiful ice palace

And they are happy there

For a brief moment

When time and history freeze

Before the inevitable melting

And the resumption of life.

The death of winter becomes the birth of spring.

The snowy white landscape blooms with yellow and green.

 

The snow flies, and makes me ponder.

I think of my grandfather,

My mother’s father, born in Gomel, Russia,

Now Belarus.

He was traveling west as

Lara was settling into life with Pasha in Yuriatin

And Yuri became Doctor Zhivago,

Just before the war and revolution.

Not that my grandfather was in Moscow,

But he must have experienced the unrest,

Seen the gap between the Pashas and the Tonyas.

 

Did the snow fly during winter nights in Gomel?

Did my grandfather walk through drifts of snow?

I don’t know what his house was like

Or how it was heated.

Was there a big stove?

Did they have a samovar for tea?

Did it seem like it snowed

And snowed the whole world over

When he was a boy?

 

The snow flies, and I think of

When I was a child.

I wanted it to snow,

Longed to have more than a trace

In our Dallas yard.

Then we moved back to Pennsylvania,

And there was snow.

I listened to the radio for school closings,

And went sledding with my boyfriend.

The guys did crazy stunts,

I watched and laughed.

And I married that boy.

 

The snow flies, reminding me of passing hours.

I know nothing of my grandfather’s childhood.

Nothing of his hopes and dreams.

And I cannot ask him now.

Did he play in the snow?

He came to Philadelphia

A young man

Just before the assassination of the Archduke.

Fleeing his homeland only to serve

In the navy of his adopted country

During the time of war and flu,

An epidemic that killed more people

Than did guns or earlier plagues.

He married a daughter, one of seven,

Of another man from Gomel, a butcher.

Would he think it funny that some of

His descendants do not eat meat?

A choice made possible

By his immigration to this country

Of variety and possibilities.

My grandfather worked hard.

I don’t imagine he spent much time

Watching the snow fall.

But after he retired, he learned to dance

And paint.

He walked and swam.

He played with his grandchildren

Whenever he visited from his home

In Miami Beach.

His winter years spent not in winter cold,

But in sun and warmth.

A place of tropical colors,

Of sandy beaches, not snowy fields.

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My grandfather as a young man. The photo is undated, but taken in Philadelphia.

The snow flies and the wind howls.

I’ve cooked and I’ve baked enough

To chase away the chill.

Banished briefly, though not forever.

There’s soup, and bread, and pie.

And we will eat and enjoy.

We’ll sit with blankets and cats

And binge-watch TV.

Tomorrow we may venture out

To see the winter landscape.

But for now

We watch as

The snow flies, and the night falls.

Inside there’s contentment and light,

Color that contrasts with winter’s

Black and white.

A candle burns on a table.

And I am home and warm

At the end of the storm.

 

If it’s snowing, then I’m probably cooking. This is what I made during out weekend blizzard. (After the pre-blizzard cooking.) 🙂

Honoring my Eastern European-Jewish roots with Vegetarian Borscht

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and Black Bread (Smitten Kitchen)

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And my American birthplace with Pumpkin Pie

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*Judy Collins, “The Blizzard”

**Earlier in the month, I had fun discussing the movie, Doctor Zhivago with Scott Parker-Anderson. See his post on the movie here.