Ernest Hemingway said the best early training for a writer is an unhappy childhood. Well there’s a group in which I fit. But looking back into the camera at my earlier days there are bittersweet moments which return with a weathered fondness when it’s time roll out my traditions, as sparse and odd as they may be.
I’ve written about Thanksgiving often; there’s a scene in Stepping into the Water where reminisces bubble up as I’m cooking for my estranged husband while we’re still living together. And I have an essay coming out next month in Hippocampus Magazine about a telephone step-by-step on stuffing the turkey with my grown daughter her first season away in New York, while I prepare my own empty-nest feast.
The traditional Thanksgiving writing fodder normally evolves from food, family, love, fall weather. But for me, it’s the egg. At first the egg was just a silly little subject between my grandmother and mom standing in the small kitchen at Grandmother’s house in Hawaii, drinks in hand, and arguing if this was an “egg year” or not. I would’ve just been scolded for sneaking a morsel of sausage from the partially prepared stuffing, or just had a creepy experience learning to count coins at the dining table while sitting in my stepdad’s lap, but when the egg argument came up each year, I was intrigued.
My mom would get a little shrill: “Mother! You put the egg in last year. We agreed: egg in the stuffing only every other year.”
“But it makes the stuffing fluffy . . . and I don’t think we put it in last year.” Grandmother, fondling the egg in her non-drink hand, would then peer at me, like I would remember.
The egg snit meant something but I didn’t know what just yet. The crack that had existed daily between Mom and her own mother was clear. But when they argued about whether to put an egg into the stuffing or not, with half-smiles and twinkling eyes, something bloomed between them and this, I began to look forward to each year.
So once I began cooking Thanksgiving for myself and whomever was in my life at the time, I would almost subconsciously alternate egg-in-the-stuffing years. Of course, like my mom and grandmother, I seldom remembered from one year to the next if I had put an egg into the stuffing, but it was a little something I did for myself. When my daughter was old enough to help me in the kitchen, I shared the family tradition with her and each year she would ask , “Mom? Is this an egg year?”
The year I was cooking the feast for my alcoholic and soon-to-be-moving-out husband, I recruited a neighbor to join our fractured family for dinner. I did this purely for selfish reasons: the neighbor would be a buffer against all that was not being said in the house — all those unspoken words hanging in the air like napalm. Husband sitting outside smoking and drinking an Old Milwaukee, the neighbor sat at the table enjoying a glass of white wine (I’d had about four already) when my daughter asked, “Mom? Is this an egg year?” I’d already made the stuffing and I can’t remember now if it had an egg in it, but the neighbor wanted to know what the egg thing was all about.
Another glass of wine in hand, I sat with her at the table. As I told her the egg story the memories of those years washed over me and I began to cry. Of course, there was so much more going on that year and the little white egg was some sort of catalyst; there I was making the same stuffing recipe with the same egg conflict but with Mom, Grandmother and Stepdad all dead, my second marriage nearing an end and a new therapy regimen which was helping me face things I had previously — and happily ignored. I was experiencing things for the first time, really.
Now, the egg is fun again. My daughter, with two of her own Thanksgivings under her belt, annually alternates her own egg in the family stuffing recipe and I am proud of this legacy.
This Thanksgiving for me . . . well, I put the egg in last year so . . . or was that the year before?