My parents were pretty good about taking pictures of important days. There were a lot of of pictures of my dad eating.
Most of them exhibited one of the many genetic traits I received from him. Eyelids drooped and mid-bite just as the picture is shot. To say the least, not very flattering. Thanksgiving pictures were reenactments of that look, with different traditional and non-traditional foods on the table.
I didn’t grow up with many traditions. It didn’t feel dysfunctional to me. My mom clipped a new recipe from the newspaper and would try it out, we ate Japanese stew with konnyaku (not my favorite), friends invited us over for the real deal Stove Top dinner, we assembled turkey sandwiches in the parking lot of the ski lodge, we went out to the movies after a quick, early dinner. Every year was different. There were lots of memorable ones. I never once felt like we needed to revive what we had done the year before.
For some of my childhood, I think my mom was trying to figure out what basic American families eat. She did, eventually, know how to make turkeys and stuffing and apple pie. I think that’s what made us feel like we had arrived, as Americans—our understanding of the stereotypical American Thanksgiving and that we could recreate it. But, we weren’t tied down by that feeling. We didn’t have to do things that way.
It was a metaphor of growth for us. We could, if we wanted to have it, but there was no disappointment if we wanted a new adventure. I just spoke to my parents on the phone, and they went to a restaurant for Thanksgiving this year. I asked them what kind of food the restaurant specialized in and they said, “Creative.” I said, “No pumpkin pie?” My dad said, “Mom made a pumpkin roll cake.” Japanese sponge cake style. I know, some people just love Thanksgiving, exactly the way it is, and I’m not saying “Take it or leave it,” – I’m just saying I don’t have my heels dug in deep for how it should happen.
The only thing that stayed the same for us was that we were together and that food is part of our expression of love, so there was always plenty of that. Now we’re strewn far apart. I didn’t even talk to my parents until the day after Thanksgiving. Kegan lives in Japan (he’s probably the most sentimental about the traditional foods, ironically), they’re in Oregon, and I’m in the middle with a big in-law extended family. I still feel the strings of family and loyalty over those long distances even when we’re missing important days together.
I also don’t feel bad that this is our current Thanksgiving:
I’ll take whatever we’ve got with the people I love. I think that’s about all the tradition that’s worth saving.