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We’re closing in on Thanksgiving Day and my thoughts have turned to traditions. I used to like traditions. I liked the Flower Power turkey centerpiece my aunt painted in ceramic class in the sixties (and I won’t even speculate on what she was smoking before she went to that particular class) I liked the smell of food baking all afternoon, the Annual Paper Bag Hat Competition, karaoke with Bing, the down and dirty Penny Ante Post-Pie Poker Tournament, and the deafening babble of people completely unaware of anything but the sound of their own voices in what has come to be known in our house as a “Holiday All-Talk.”
I liked traditions until somewhere along the line I woke up and found myself suffocating under a mantle of matriarchy someone must have thrown over me while I was sleeping because I never remember actually saying, “Hell, yes! I’ll be the Keeper of the Family Traditions! You can count on me, kids!” But that’s what happened.
(me as Queen of Traditions-- Lisa isn’t the only one with a tiara, you know!)
The thing with traditions is that while we cling tenaciously to the good ones we cling even more tenaciously to the bad ones. In my unasked for role of Gatekeeper, I have tried bucking tradition by surreptitiously replacing Bad Ideas with Good Ones. Take for example Corn Casserole with Crunchy Ritz Cracker Topping, a traditional accompaniment in our Thanksgiving Feast. The thing always way overdone, the sides pulling away from the antique Corningware casserole, the top split and oozing some watery corn liquor that is soaked up by the crunchy (but soon not to be crunchy) Ritz crackers. No one likes Corn Casserole with Crunchy Ritz Cracker Topping. Oh, sure everyone takes a spoonful but no one eats it. I know. Last Thanksgiving when I was scraping dishes, compelled by some hitherto unsuspected scientific bent, I fitted together all the corn chunks left on all the plates and lo and behold I formed one complete corn pudding casserole—except for a single serving I suspect my father of having passed to one of the dogs (don’t ask—dogs beneath the table are traditional, too) beneath the table.
And yet… and yet when I propose that we replace Corn Casserole with Crunchy Ritz Cracker Topping with, say, Delicious Corn Bread Muffin Mix Muffins or, better yet, forget the damn casserole altogether and stick with what works (and we all know that’s Green Bean Casserole with Mushroom Soup and Durkie’s Fried Onion Topper) and you would think I suggested that we all get in our cars and run down small kittens in the driveway. The wailing is deafening. “But we ALWAYS have corn pudding! We ALWAYS have it!”
There’s only one choice. Wait ‘em out, which is exactly what my Grandmother Ruth did about the Lutefisk Problem. My Grandmother Ruth was a strong-willed firecracker of a woman who ruled her household with an iron fist. But she was also in love with my Grandfather, a second generation Swede who loved his family’s traditions—especially lutefisk. Before she could stop herself, being in love and all, my grandmother had promised to make him lutefisk every Christmas eve and she did. After he died, when my mom was going through Grandma’s recipe box looking for traditional recipes and asked her where it was, she replied with perfect equanimity, “I buried it with Archie.” I think she did, too.
So how about you? What family traditions do you love and which ones do you wish someone had buried with an ancestor?
and while we’re at it, have you bought HOT DISH yet? Christmas is coming up and we all know that books by Connie Brockway are traditional Christmas presents, right? Right.
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