Songs of Squirrels, Beauty, and Tradition

Monday Morning Musings:

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,. . .”

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing”

 

“The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.”

–Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

 

“Perhaps this piece of evolution makes no sense—our hunger for everyday sorts of visual pleasure—but I don’t think so, I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.”

–Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God

 

The long holiday weekend is filled with family, food, love, and traditions

my younger daughter and I break bread for stuffing

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it’s a calling, a mission, with certain conditions

some fluid, others unchanging

though life does some rearranging

through time and space

and so, I flashback in my mind  to my sister and me

watching Thanksgiving parades and tearing pieces from loaves

while our mother is at the stove

producing the magic of holiday meals

(then not appreciated, but now, oh the feels)

Now daughter and I, we break the bread

and watch The Gilmore Girls instead

done the day before,

crossing off this chore,

from the to-do list

and while the old, might be missed

a new holiday tradition it seems is born

taking place while the bread is torn

because sometimes we require them

even when the holiday is filled with so many.

 

On the big day—what to do

when our designated squirrel un-molder is not here?*

Another one is drafted and a crowd gathers

Offering advice on this and sundry matters

as the cranberry sauce does not want to leave the mold:

more hot water

use a spatula

A compliment:

Not only is she smooth on the dance floor,

she’s smooth on the squirrel, too.

Critique:

She can’t bang it, it’s a hundred-year old thing.

There will be no banging!

Encouragement:

Come on little squirrel we love you.

do it do it do it

Oh my gosh I think it’s happening

The crowd goes wild:

Yaaaaayy!

Another year with the squirrel!

and so, we talk and laugh and eat and drink

discuss scuba diving and money laundering

the possibility of my mom having off-shore accounts

(she doesn’t, but the thought produces much laughter).

We discover how many people it takes to get

a ninety-five-year-old woman up the stairs to the bathroom

wonder if we’re doomed,

but at least three, it seems,

still, we enjoy the holiday and dreams

watched by the spirits of those no longer with us

it is ever thus,

the ghosts of holidays past,

“remember when,” the common refrain

joining in a train

the days from before

to what will come hence

past and future tense

blended together,

a holiday casserole of memories and dreams,

like the dish of leftovers my sister tells me she made

layers laid atop one another,

savory, tart, and just a little sweet

the art of distinct layers that together seep

to form when mixed through

something entirely new.

 

The next day, we take our older daughter and her wife

on a journey to see visual pleasures

in nature and art, such treasures

a visit with the boating party

scream at monsters

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or just scream

dine by the water

and dance in the woods

we hear America sing

its varied songs

and glory in Impressionistic delight

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Later, we eat leftovers

and watch The Blair Witch Project–

because nothing says family coziness like horror movies–

with food

America singing its varied carols

 

We do a holiday wine tasting in the barrel room

Scott, assists us, keeping up a lively patter

as he describes the wine and other matters

it is a beautiful fall day

and so, we decide to stay

to sit outside

while we imbibe

watching the soaring hawks

and listening to others talk

looking at the daytime moon

enjoying this weather, thinking winter will be here soon.

We eat Pakistani food

and meet out daughter and son-in-law’s neighbors

who have become friends–the kind of whom you can ask favors,

we discuss how our daughters sound alike,

one tells how she used to sneak about at night,

and we counter with embarrassing childhood stories

(the glory of parental territory)

perhaps the start of a new tradition,

of perhaps it is sufficient

to see and relish the present and the everyday.

 

Now, it’s four o’clock Monday morning,

we’re awake for the sake

of our daughter and her wife

who have to catch their flight

though it seems the middle of the night,

yet I’m strangely alert

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear

of parents and children saying goodbye

of politicians trying to tear apart, like stuffing bread,

when they could be constructing something good instead

of children going off to school

hoping they will learn some tools

to navigate this brave new world

that has such people in’t

both good and bad

some sad, hungering for traditions, or new conditions,

for truth and beauty to negate the hate

I see a squirrel scamper from a tree,

and over us, the moon hums her tune

I watch for the sun to rise in autumn beauty–soon

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We visited Grounds for Sculpture again and did a Holiday Wine Trails tasting in the barrel room at Sharrott Winery.

 

*I explained the tradition of the cranberry squirrel in this post.

 

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.

 

 

 

Why I Love Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. To me, it has never been a holiday about shopping. It’s a holiday that’s all about food. And being thankful for food. And being thankful for having family and friends—with whom you can share food. Do you sense a theme?  It’s about sitting at the table, talking and relaxing over food and wine.

I love the scents that envelop the house as the turkey roasts and the gravy simmers. These scents evoke long ago memories of past Thanksgivings, or perhaps better stated, they evoke long ago feelings from past Thanksgivings, feelings of warmth, comfort, and joy. I don’t know why, but it makes me happy.

I love my crazy, dysfunctional family. I don’t care if there is stupid, family drama. I still love them and love having them here. I will try to remain calm if tempers flare. (And if not, there’s always more wine. . .and food. . .and chocolate.)

I love our family Thanksgiving traditions—our cranberry squirrel (you can read about it here), our breaking bread to make stuffing, and our having to eat the same food every year.

I will miss not having our older daughter here, but I am happy for her that she gets to spend Thanksgiving with her new wife, and I’m grateful that her in-laws are so welcoming. I am happy that our younger daughter will be with us again this year. I am thankful that my 92-year-old mother is still able to celebrate the holiday at our Thanksgiving table.

We are expecting a winter storm today. The rain is starting to pick up now, and it’s expected to turn to snow. I am thankful that my family is not traveling today.  For those of you who are traveling today, I wish you a safe and uneventful journey.

I know that many of my friends have lost loved ones, and I know Thanksgiving is a reminder of their loss. I am sorry, and my heart aches for you. Please know that you can call me, and that I will be thinking of you.  I know I will be in that situation some day. That makes me more all the more thankful for what I have now.

I know that many believe the world is broken. I have no answers. . .

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

–Emily Dickinson

And what is a world without hope? I am thankful for hope and grateful for all those who strive to make the world a better place.

I am thankful to have submitted my latest book manuscript and that all my test writing assignments are completed, so now I can relax and cook and enjoy my family. I’ve done much of the Thanksgiving cooking already—breads are baked and in the freezer, soon to be thawed. Applesauce and vegetarian gravy are thawing now. My younger daughter and I will be baking and cooking today and tomorrow. My house will be filled with the scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, onions, and turkey. I will break bread for stuffing with my daughter as we catch up on Scandal or binge watch The Gilmore Girls on Netflix. We will shoo cats away from the food, and we will not dare to set the table until the last minute. The house will not be spotless, but I won’t care. I will feel grateful for it all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Thank you for reading!

Thanksgiving Cranberry Squirrel

Thanksgiving Cranberry Squirrel