Sunday, November 26, 2006


You know those papers we were all assigned as kids? The ones like, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" and "What I Did for Christmas Break?" Well, this is "How I Spent My Thanksgiving." Enjoy!

We drove, we visited, we ate, we visited, we ate, we visited, we drove, and we slept. The end.

Hmmmm... there seems to be something missing. Oh yes, we ate before we slept, too.

Ok, ok. Enough with the snarky.

We had planned for some time that we would spend our Thanksgiving with family down south of the Bay. It was something we hadn't done in a very long time indeed, and we were really looking forward to it. We were going to Nona's house! Truthfully, that's always a treat in-and-of itself; but when the added value of Thanksgiving dinner is in the mix - why, four hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic couldn't keep us away!

That morning we got up at the usual time. We were scheduled to arrive at Nona's at 2pm. We figured a three-hour drive, so we needed to leave out house at 11am. That gave us an easy morningtime. (I really cherish easy morningtimes. No matter how hard I try, I can get myself up and out of bed, but the next step of in the shower and ready to leave for someplace is a challenge for me. Those of you who know me well know what I mean.)

So, we have an easy morningtime and are ready to go at 10am. Oh yes, we are early! Pretty cool, huh? Not only are we early, but we have a full tank of gas and we know where we are going and, most importantly, we didn't forget anything. In fact, we brought extra clothes just in case of a Thanksgiving Catastrophe that might Result In Needing To Change Clothes. Sweet.

Oops, I need to back up a quick sec. One of the things I learned to make as a Southern kid at Thanksgivingtime is this side dish made of sweet potatoes (or yams). This is a time-honored dish not for the faint of heart. Really, if you have heart problems, you should skip this delicasy because it will surely do you in! It's made with roasted sweet potatoes, butter (real butter), whole milk, whole eggs, real sugar, real brown sugar, flour, more butter, and pecans. Lots. This was my project for the day before.

OK, so we load up the car with ourselves, our Emergency Clothes, maps, soda pop (no one else drinks Diet Caffiene-Free Coke, so we bring our own), and two big-giant pans of freshly baked Southern-Style Sweet Potato Casserole. We are on our way.

For those of you wondering, "But what about Cookie and Cosmo? Did they have to stay behind?" Well, yes. Not to worry, though. Our wonderful neighbors offered to let Cookie and the 'Mo stay at their house. It was a beautiful day, a little on the cold side, but happily, no rain.

As we pulled out of the driveway, I remembered something. I dialed my neighbor - the ones taking care of Cooks and 'Mo. "Hi, Sharon. I wanted to let you kow we're on the way out. Also, there seems to be a dead pidgeon up under your eaves. We just thought you'd like to know... ... Of course, you could just leave it there as a warning to all the other pidgeons that roosting here is certain death... ... Yes, Cookie and Cosmo are in the back yard - and the gate's open... ... You can try, but you know how Cookie can be... ... Traffic? Not bad; we just passed your house and there's not another car in sight! [they are our next-door neighbors] ... OK, Happy Thanksgiving to you ... talk with you later ... Bye!"

Usually, I drive. I drive and drive and drive. I'm a little tired of driving. So this time, I rode along with the understanding that I'd drive back (I have better night vision). It was nice to be a passenger!

The in-town traffic wasn't bad at all. It wasn't until we were a little less than halfway that we encountered our first back-up. Few things are more unsettling for me than being completely stopped and parked on a freeway. There's just something so wrong about that.

After a quick consultation with the map and handy 511 traffic line (thank you State of California), we decided to take an alternate route. Now, this isn't one of those madcap, zany stories about alternate route go wrong. In fact, I'm happy to say that our decisionmaking served us well.

By the time we were three-quarters of the way distance-wise, it was noon-ish. We were in some Bay area burg and heading against the jam... and oh, what a back-up! I looked with awe at the miles of cars stacked bumper-to-bumper. From what I could tell, the source of all this was a toll booth. Incoming traffic didn't have to pay. As I gandered at the enormity of the sparkling snake of cars roping its way along the trough that was the road, I noticed two things, both of which gives me a jolt even now: The first was that there was two rows of cars literally parked in the road for as far as I could see (in fairness, it wasn't a perfectly staight road). The second was (shivers) there were no exits off this road! What would have happened is someone ran out of gas? Or had a heart attack? Or (gasp) had to go to the bathroom???! (again, those of you who know me well understand that of which I speak) A wave of clausterphobia tickles my toes even now. I wonder, are those poor people still stuck there?

Eventually, the oncoming traffic-snake tapered off. Times like these make me wish for a device that could be used to broadcast into cars a warning, "Exit now! No Potty Zone Ahead!" God bless 'em.

After a few more miles and turns, we found ourselves at Nona's. Yay! We parked and got out of the car. Standing was a gratifying challenge. When you're old like me you'll understand what I mean... We grabbed our gear and headed for the front door. The sumptuous fragrance of roasting meats and fixin's carried us nose-first up the two-stair porch like so many Looney Tunes cartoons. Ahhhh, we're here. It was 2ish.

After a knock and a pause, the door was thrown open. Nona! Big smiles and bigger hugs were exchanged, and we were allowed entry. Nona's house is a single-level bungalow with oak plank floors, brick fireplace and kitchen, and love oozing out of every doily, figurine, teacup, and pillow.

While Nona is a grandmother, she's not our grandmother. She is my sister-in-law. This was the first Thanksgiving the two older brothers and their sister (and families) had enjoyed together since ... I think ever, actually. Nieces, uncles, aunties, and friends filled the house with a warm chatter I love to hear. I tried to make myself useful in the kitchen, but was bustled out after a few minutes. I walked over and sank into the deep cusions of one of the sofas and was immediately greatful. Who knew being a passenger was so tiring??

Pretty soon, it was time to eat. Yay! But who was going to carve the turkey? I'm pretty handy with a knife (just ask my fingers - the ones left... ha!), so I volunteered. Anyway, Nona had an electric knife, so what could possibly go wrong?

I went to work... and a few minutes later, we had a boned turkey carcass and a pile of steaming white and dark meat - and no blood! A Thanksgiving miracle...

All some-teen of us sat at our placecards and our youngest guest said grace. "Dear Heavenly Father, bless us and bless Mommy and Daddy and Nona and thank you for this food for the nourishment of our bodies in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost Amen." I opened my eyes and surveyed the spread.

There was a salad with greens, avocado, cherry tomatoes, craisins, with a orange-vinagrette dressing. There was a b-i-g platter full of turkey (white meat in teh center and dark meat surrounding), a gravy boat filled with piping-hot, you know, gravy. We were treated to two kinds of stuffing, homemade cornbread, mashed potatoes, asparagus, pumkin mini-muffins, and sweet potato casserole. After a few minutes of passing and plating, we all settled in to enjoy our feast.

I kid you not, a silence fell on the room. No one said anything for - no joke - about three minutes. The only noise was forks and knives working and chewing and "mmmm's." Then, someone said something, and everyone joined in and resumed their converations. I take it as a sign of pure culinary delight.

After a respectable amount of dinner-ing, we all agreed ot was time to retire to the living room. A couple of us stayed behind to try to help Nona with the enormous clean-up ahead. I asked, "Would you like me to carve to other turkey, or do you want to keep it whole?" Yes, there was a second turkey, almost as big as the first one, and just as pretty. Nona said yes, so I went to work. A fork, a sharp knife, an electric knife with grease from the other turkey on the handel - what could possibly go wrong??

Why, nothing! Yay! While I was slicing slabs of succulent turkey, Nona started coffee. Maybe it was the mood, or maybe it was he combination of everything else, but I'll be darned if that wasn't the most wonderful-smelling coffee I have ever sniffed in my life. I couldn't wait to have some. Alas, it was not to be. After the first round, it was time to make more coffee. Lucky for me, this batch smelled as good as the first!

It was time to unleash the pies...

We had pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies and a big, huge pumpkin log (think rolled carrot-spice cake with crean cheese icing). One of the nieces noticed that there was some whipping cream in the 'fridge. I volunteered to whip it up. Really, few things are yummier than homemade pies with fresh-whipped cream. As an added benefit, scoop a big, ole' dollop in your coffee for something really special.

Most everyone had some of everything. Including me. I even had some pecan pie (minus the pecans). It was all sooo good.

Before we knew it, it was 11pm. Most of the guests had gone home and it was just us and Nona. We could tell she had a really long day. A couple of us managed to get a couple of loads of dishes through the wash and put away leftovers and ingredients, and tidied up a bit, but there was still a lot to do. Nona assured us that she would finish up in the morning and that we shouldn't come to her house to work.

We said our goodbyes and promises to get together again soon, took our leftovers, and headed back. I was driving, so of course it wasn't until about 10 minutes into it that I left the oh-so-familiar pillowy-soft blanket of tryptophan kick in. Nice!

I said, "We have to talk."


"No, it's nothing bad. I just need to talk about something because I feel like I'm about to nod off."


"Come on... so how 'bout that pumkin log?" Me? I had never seen one as big as that. It was the size of ... ummm ... a very large rolled-up cakey-type thing indeed! And it was smackerlicious.

A few minutes later, I woke up just fine. I think it was the car in front of the car in front of me who's tire blew out that did it. No kidding. A few minutes later, another car blew it's tire out, too. Yikes!

Soon enough we were out of the city and zooming down the interstate, making monster time. A scant two hours later, we were pulling into our driveway. Ahhh. Home.

We knew that Cookie and Cosmo would be in the house, so we made a beeline for the door to let them out and do their business. They were happy to see us and obliged by doing lots of business. Meanwhile, we unloaded the car.

It was nice to be home. Glad that we went, for sure! But we were glad to be home all the same.

We looked at each other and said, "Are you hungry? Yes..." and pulled out a few leftovers. We sat down and had a teeny-tiny version of the dinner we enjoyed just a few hours before. Like an echo.

After a little while, it was time to get to bed. After giving the pups a pat, we crawled under the covers and were soon fast asleep, dreaming of the wonderful Thanksgiving day we were lucky enough to spend at Nona's.

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