Eileen Dahill/Minnesota/Thanksgiving

The Reluctant Holiday

My Belfast born mom always thought she should be exempt from Thanksgiving. She was Irish. She never became an American citizen despite the opportunity to have dual citizenship. If the dinner was served at our house she would never sit down. My mom didn’t mind conjuring up this American meal for us – but I think she was privately glad that it was once a year.

The One Day Off

My mom returned to work full time as a secretary when I was about twelve. She had the one day off to make the fantastical meal and then back to work on Friday. The plates, glasses and silverware gradually gave way through the years to little napkins with turkey’s on them that matched all the other paper and plastic products on our table. We would trace our hands and make little turkey’s with color crayons. Sometimes we would blow up small balloons and rub them on our youngest brother’s hair to create enough static electricity to suspend the balloons on the walls – for awhile. We thought it looked very festive and kept recharging the balloons off my brother through out the Thanksgiving day. As he got older he would slide across the floor in his socks and ‘shock’ us to stay away, but he was good for at least a dozen balloons. As children we made center pieces from oranges and raw cranberries and mini-marshmallows to look like turkey’s using an entire box of toothpicks. These American traditions that we brought home from school somewhat baffled my mom.

The Grocery Store

I am not sure why we shopped the night before Thanksgiving but plenty of other people did too. Big long conga lines down the isles waiting to get near the cashier We all had the one day off. I was amazed at other people carts knowing they were going to be up all night cooking from scratch and then back to work the next day. We had canned jellied cranberry sauce, green beans, ready-to-eat pies and something called Cool Whip topping that had no milk in it whatsoever for our desserts. My mom cooked the turkey but at some point gave way to boxed stuffing and made the gravy. I would help with the potatoes. I think she would of preferred a trifle molding on the back step to pumpkin pie. Minnesota is known for its quirky “hot dishes”. They are all garnished with things like tater-tots, chow mein noodles, or crushed crisps. That are NOT called casseroles, goulashes, or risottos. My mom would peer into other peoples grocery carts and turn and give me her knowing look that said, “Not on my table.”

Eileen Cooks

Although I have cooked a turkey a bunch of times, I only hosted Thanksgiving twice. Once, I had to scramble back to the packed store because my Turkey didn’t fit in the oven. The second time the pan with handles didn’t fit in the oven and I had a wobbly aluminum one that I found at the chemists the night before. Both times my sister-in-law who is a cook AND hostess brought in ‘reinforcements’ in case the entire meal got away from me. My sister brought cheeses, crackers, wines, and beverages assuming the the meal just might not be ready on time. My game plan including carving the turkey up the night before and letting in marinate in its own juices. I used a crock pot for a Minnesotan dish called ‘cheesy potatoes’. On year, as we all sat down my brother Anthony mentioned loudly after grace how disappointing it was not to have the tradition of carving the turkey at the table. I drew his name later that night as his “Secret Santa” and it was a very small one that year.

It is very much a Minnesota tradition to fix ‘leftover’ plates for guests to bring home. Like the Japanese tea ceremony there is a certain ritual to this that eluded me. Some of my friends consoled me afterwards and said that I should of just sent home made cookies, jellies, or jams. One of my friends knew my limitations and made a simple freezer jam with the recipe included in case next time I should get in this culinary predicament again. She is the type that will have homemade place cards at the table, a table runner (she probably weaved it herself), a center piece, and a soft candle burning in the bathroom full of beautiful towels A good friend and reference for me whenever I attempt to host anything. But I just started plopping things in plastic freezer bags and putting it all in a grocery bags to bring home for my family to sort out at their own places. It was enough for me to clear and stack the dishes.

The Craic at Thanksgivng

I love the craic at Thanksgiving. The Holiday music explodes on the radio. Because of our fierce weather many people have put out their Christmas lights when it was warmer and they are now just waiting for the moment to flick them on for family arriving. It’s a time when old friends roll into town and are freed up by evening. Our local will be packed all night long tonight as people stop in. (In the tundra that becomes our state – it is a less hazardous time for traveling than Christmas, so many people take this time to reunite with families than risk being stranded on the road or stuck in an airport.)

Our Thankssgivng dinner is at my brother’s. Their extremely large chocolate lab continuously thumps his tail on me so much that I think I am going home with bruises. He is only consoled by table scraps from my mom. He is a hunting dog that has worked his way from the garage to the house to practically having his own bedroom.

I rummaged around our home last night for a plate to bring something over to my brother’s on Thanksgiving. I discovered the old gravy boat that must of been a wedding gift to my parents. It is chipped and has lost its ladle. But it brought back happy memories of times past on my mom’s reluctant holiday – Thanksgiving.