Cold Turkey

Dear Will:

It’s Thanksgiving morning. My mother is coming over, and so are my in-laws, which is another way of saying that Dana has been worrying and stressing and prepping for this day for weeks. The last couple of days have produced a frenzy of kitchen activity, most of which I have observed from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy. But today I got my chance to step up and actually contribute. Today my lone assignment was to get the bird into the oven. Not wanting to screw up this seemingly simple assignment, I even got up extra early to be sure I got it right—only to discover (about an hour too late) that I had miscalculated the roasting time. So I did great, except that it looks like the main course will be done long before any of the guests arrive.

“What’s the best way to get people to quit coming to your house for Thanksgiving? Cold turkey.”

As perhaps you can sense, we’re really no good at this stuff. We have one or two go-to menus that we haul out pretty much every time we have guests over, but we decided we really can’t get away with grilled salmon or marinated flank steak today. So Dana has turned to The Pioneer Woman for counsel, plotting and scheming a menu so elaborate that we’ll still be eating leftovers when next Thanksgiving rolls around.

Speaking of Thanksgiving rolls, every year my sister Nancy makes these potato rolls (key ingredient: lots and lots of butter) that have become my boys’ favorite item on the menu. Which is great except that Nancy won’t be joining us this year. Now Dana’s no idiot: She knows that it would foolhardy to take someone else’s signature recipe and try to replicate the magic, so she declared early on that this year there would be (alas) no potato rolls. Her husband protested but to no avail. When Luke and Seth protested, however, loudly and vehemently and with technique refined over many years of practiced manipulation, mother-love trumped reason and Dana agreed to give it a go.

So there’s hope, in other words—hope that the day will not be a total fiasco after all. What I’m banking on is that Dana’s rolls will be so tasty that maybe everyone will forget about the cold, desiccated turkey. Or at least the boys will—which will at least solve the potential whining problem. That’s certainly something to be thankful for, right?

For that, and for the pie. I think if you performed some sort of anthropological reconstruction of the history of Thanksgiving, or ran some kind of elaborate regression analysis of data going back to Chief Massasoit himself, you would come to the indisputable conclusion that pie is the central reason that the Thanksgiving tradition persists. To me, you could pretty much skip the stuffing and potatoes and parsnips (especially the parsnips), ditch the cranberry sauce and the other 12 dishes we are somehow supposed to get onto a single plate, and still have a hugely successful feast. Rolls for dinner. Pie for dessert. Nap on sofa. Who could ask for anything more?

That, in any case, is my official position on the day in which the turkey went into the oven three hours too soon. We’re all here for the pie anyway, right everybody? Right? Who’s with me?

PW

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It Gives One Pause and a Little Tug

Dear Will:

Earlier this month my father turned 83. My mother’s 80th birthday is in about 10 days. So imagine my excitement when they told me they had decided to take a trip to Turkey. Their plane left this morning.

My parents enjoy traveling, but Turkey was never really on their list. However, when my sister’s husband, who works for the military, found himself assigned to a military base there, my parents’ vacation priorities shifted. Flying to Turkey is the sort of thing that parents do, apparently, especially when there are a passel of grandkids involved. Even when you’re in your eighties.

As you well know, that bond between parent and child is a strong one, not typically muted by passing years. Consider, for instance, that my sister Susan was born over 40 years ago. She has long since “left the nest.” Meanwhile my parents are really beginning to show their age, having fought battles with cancer and strokes and even a couple of knee replacement surgeries. Given those facts, it’s not hard to construct a pretty good case against this trip. Believe me, I tried. But even though my father acknowledged that this trip probably wasn’t the best idea, they would not be dissuaded. Their course was set and their cause was clear: One of their babies—and that baby’s babies—couldn’t make it home for holidays (much less Sunday dinners), and they didn’t want to wait any longer to hug and hold each one of them and admire the refrigerator art of a my sister’s five children.

That tug of affection across generations is an eternal verity, a manifestation of the ineffable bond linking son to father to grandfather and on. Even before the days of Christ, Malachi spoke of the hearts of fathers turning to their children, and the hearts of children turning to their fathers. It is that selfsame spirit which leads the curious to embark on a passionate search for ancestors, the resulting family tree branching back into history a dozen generations or more. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

I’ve had all of this on my mind lately, and not just because my elderly parents are traveling half-way across the world when they might be better off sitting on the sofa and watching the NCAA Tournament (my Bruins are in the Final Four!) You see, just last week I received via email an electronic copy of my wife’s genealogy and discovered that someone, by some means, has traced her heritage back into the 1500s. That’s over 400 years worth of family foliage, a staggering amount of research and a humbling glimpse of one’s past. As I stared at the screen of my computer I was in awe:

Christopher Worrilow – Born, 1579, Haughton, Staffordshire, England; died in 1605 [so young!], a year or so after his son John was born. He and his wife Margery died on the same day.

Wouldn’t you love to know how they died, and who raised little John, and the answers to half a dozen other questions? I don’t even know where to begin such an inquiry, but I do know this: The Internet has now made it possible even for a hack like me to tinker with family history. (You should check out familysearch.org—wow!) At any rate, it does give one pause—and a little tug—as eternal forces compel us to try to pull together our families across continents and cultures and many generations.

PW

One of the Greatest Gifts Ever

Dear Will:

My family is going through some nervousness as my sister and her husband (and their five small children) prepare to move to Turkey, where my brother-in-law has accepted a position working as a civilian contractor on a military base. We hope that it will turn out to be a great adventure for them, but we can’t help but feel anxious about their welfare.

Most anxious of all are my parents. My father will be 82 in a couple of weeks, and his body is really starting to show some wear and tear. Just this last week, in fact, he was in the emergency room with a slight case of pneumonia, a frightening condition for someone his age. It gave me a jolt, and when I saw him in his awkward gown and heard his scratchy voice, I could see clearly what I rarely see in full light: he has become an old man.

My sister’s imminent departure has caused my parents to consider the stark and upsetting possibility that after they kiss my sister and her children good-bye, they quite possibly could be doing so for the last time. Three years—the theoretical minimum length of my brother-in-law’s contract—is a really long time when you’re 82. Thus it was perhaps not surprising—even if it was disconcerting—when my dad called me to his home to “go over some things.”

My wife Dana and I were given a brief list of items my parents thought we might consider valuable: paintings mostly, the chair built by my great-grandfather, the clock that my grandparents used to have on their mantle—stuff like that. They said they wanted each of their children (there are seven of us) to pick the top two things we would most like to have once my parents are gone. Dana and I wandered through their house “shopping.” And it felt . . . really . . . strange.

They do have several pieces of art that I like quite a lot, but to be honest they mean nothing to me. The ones with the greatest apparent value are not valuable to me. And asking for any of them seemed trite and cold. I didn’t really want to play along. Nevertheless, I dutifully filled out my “order form,” but I felt like I didn’t really care whether I got the bronze or it went to one of my sisters.

When we were finished, my father showed me the location of his important papers: the will, the trust, the durable power of attorney. We stood in his office and discussed insurance policies and safe deposit boxes and burial arrangements. There was no sense of sadness as he did this, no woe-is-me, I’m-about-to-die melancholy. It was just matter-of-fact and business-like—something that had to be done.

That’s when I spied it: a tiny, 4-inch replica of a red Radio Flyer wagon. My father has had it on his desk my entire life. I can remember visiting his business when I was maybe five and playing with it in his office. He always used to keep a navy blue Superball in it. Just looking at it filled me with tenderness—and that’s when I knew. I reclaimed my form, crossed out my original choices and indicated instead that I wanted only that wagon. To have that symbol of my father on my own desk, for my own children to play with when they come to my office, would be a lot more valuable to me than any work of art ever could be.

Of course, I’m hoping that wagon remains on my father’s desk for many years to come, and that my parents stick around long after we hold a big Welcome Home Party for my sister.  Until then, I’m determined to spend a little more time in my parents home, looking at the paintings, listening to the chime of that old clock, and enjoying my mom and dad, one of greatest gifts God has ever given me.

PW