While planning my Thanksgiving menu, I think of my Dad. Every Thanksgiving, Dad would put it all together by himself. As kids we never appreciated it and once grown, my sisters and I would show up at my parent's tiny apartment and start drinking to get through it all, not realizing the hours Dad had spent on his feast. Every year, he put out a homemade vegetable tray with radishes, pickles, celery and large, black olives. His cranberry sauce was canned and his potatoes lumpy, but Dad's magnum opus was always his potato salad with just the right hint of mustard and pickles. (Mom is still here and she tries to make his potato salad. It is not the same. But, she tries.)
Dad, who loved his pig, also made a ham every Thanksgiving. As a young child, I distinctly remember being awakened by the sound of Dad cutting up ham with his electric slicer early on Thanksgiving morning. Dad was an insomniac and probably figured that five a.m. was as good a time as any for slicing. My best friend Melinda and her little sister Pam, who had themselves been awakened by the slicer in the wee hours of the morning on a non-holiday sleepover (Dad was probably making his special fried ham and eggs for breakfast that morning), made up a song called "John's The Man Who Cuts the Ham". We would sing it every time they spent the night in anticipation of being awakened by the zzzzzzzzzz of the ham cutter.
In the years since his passing, I have to say that I sorely miss Dad's dry as desert turkey (so dry it could choke you) and his mushy stuffing and that damn vegetable tray, with all the pickles and radishes cut by hand. And I would kill for a bite of his potato salad. I wish I could see Dad's face. I would just stare at it and try to memorize it. I wouldn't drink a sip of beer. I would sit with Dad and talk. Give him the time he always wanted from me and that I never had.
Those last weeks of Dad were not him really. Oh there were flashes, don't get me wrong, he was still there buried deep under the pain and drugs. Yet, the Dad I want to remember is the one who would stand up for hours cooking us all Thanksgiving dinner whistling along to Johnny Cash. I don't want to remember the Dad in the hospice bed.
Every year, I consider buying premade food for Thanksgiving. Last night, I even picked up a menu at the Honey Baked Ham store. Once I thought it over, I shook my head. I have to try and carry on Dad's tradition. For us Mantz women to cook is the surest sign of love because we are not naturals at it. It is stressful and difficult and not always enjoyable for me, but this year I am going to try and appreciate it more. Adrian will make the turkey to guarantee that no one gets food poisoning, and my twin Jackie will bring the ham. My little sister Annie is bringing healthy salad (because she believes salad is a necessary evil) and a pie. I will do everything else.
This year, instead of rushing, I will take my time on my candied sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, roasted green beans with almonds and a sage, celery and apple stuffing. I promise you dear reader that I will slowly cut the celery and apples by hand while humming along to the country station. I will even put out a vegetable tray with pickles, radishes, celery and black olives. Maybe I will place an olive on each of my five fingers, just like I did when I was little, and wave my fingers up in the air while remembering that I always used to name each one of the five olives: Mom, Dad, Jackie, Jennie and Annie.