My family has fizzled.
When I was a kid, my grandparents had many celebrations at their house. It was warm, crowded, loud- full of food and love. All of my childhood memories of Christmas or Thanksgiving included a house full of people. Even our birthdays had the occasional great aunt, second cousin, or family friend who we all figured was somehow related to us.
Then, when I turned thirteen, the family started to break. And broke. And broke again.
I'm not sure I'll ever understand why or how this happened, but over the past ten years my giant family with their funny, loud, big personalities has dwindled to a handful of people. My mother was one of seven, and each of her parents came from big families. Most of the family never moved out of the area, so family functions were so much fun as a kid spent running around with the cousins. I am sad that my own children will never experience this as I did.
Because of this breaking of family I have found that I don't enjoy holidays as much as I used to. Over the years I have tried really hard to create the kind of happy memories for my kids that I have had, and I know my mother does, too, but it just isn't the same. So now that my kids are older and go with their dads for Thanksgiving, I tend to avoid the holiday. There are many reasons for this that I won't get into here. However, my husband and I just spent a week in Asheville, NC for Thanksgiving. Not visiting family. Not doing the traditional thing. Just enjoying spending time reconnecting with each other. I give thanks in my own way by spending time in nature, reflecting on people in my life, and for the blessings I tend to overlook on a daily basis. When we came home we had a mini Thanksgiving. Again, I didn't feel all that interested in the Thanksgiving thing.
And so last night, as I do with every leftover meat part, I began the process of making broth.
A simple act, really. Second nature at this point. But as I drifted off to sleep with the smell of long and slow-cooked turkey wafting up to my bedroom, it reminded me of how much food connects us with the past. In my half sleep I kept having visions of my grandmother and their house where I felt so loved and welcome. It's the ragout.
I hate turkey, but my French Canadian grandmother always made ragout the day after Thanksgiving, and dear God I love that food. Grandmother's ragout always had a few questionable pieces in it: some skin floating around, probably some cartilage, and my mother always warned me to watch out for the little bones that 'Grandmother couldn't see.' I ate this hearty meal delicately, so as to not impale my throat and so I could remove the gag slimy skin and unchewable cartilage. This was one of my first lessons in eating mindfully- not just because I had to, but because it was special. It was a family dish that went way back; in my imagination I pictured my ancestors eating this very same meal while sitting over an ice fishing hole in their beaver skin hats.
Since my grandmother passed away I have found that the act of cooking deeply connects me to her. When I make the dishes I grew up with it transforms from annoying food prep into a ritual. There is a deep remembrance. This is probably due to the connection of scent to memory, but I still feel her near when I prep her food.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning to the smell of the turkey, still cooking that broth down down down to a deep golden brown, full fat and oils floating on top. I laid in bed for a while spending time thinking of Grandmother and the family I miss. Avoiding Thanksgiving doesn't heal the hurt. Basking in the scent of the food I know plunges me deeper into those memories, even more than the old photos I like to look at.
So I started making the ragout this morning at 6am. As I sifted out the bones and all the yucky stuff I hated as a kid, I found myself leaving a little bit of skin and cartilage in- for Grandmother. To make it like hers, even if those may have been accidents. I took my time removing the meat from the bones and putting them back in the broth. I could do this much faster, but the act of this process, the need for slowing down, is necessary. I want to hold my grandmother longer, and this is how I do that. My hands are starting to age, and I see it. One day they will look like Grandmother's hands picking the meat off the bone. One day I won't be able to get all the bones out of the broth. One day my grandkids will discreetly spit out the cartilage and put it in the napkin so I don't see.
I hope that one day I will have a house full of my kids and grandkids and friends that are family. I hope we can create memories for others to fall back on when life is crappy. I hope we don't let the family fizzle. That we can put those things, whatever they may be, behind us for the good of the next generations. I hope my kids keep making the ragout, the crab soup, and the spaghetti.
If ragout is the doorway to spend more time with Grandmother, I guess I won't keep skipping Thanksgiving after all.