by Kathleen Bradean
Apologies in advance to non-US readers for the nation-centric post. Insert your own national holiday.
It sounded like a nice idea. Have a bunch of friends and family over. Eat a ton of food. Sit around the fire and tell ourselves a feel-good myth about our origins…
And then it happened.
Oysters in the stuffing.
Oops. I should have posed a trigger warning. I can envision you recoiled in horror at the very idea of oysters inside your bird. I mean, awful, right? Don’t get me wrong. I love oysters. Fresh and briny, or cooked with spinach and bread crumbs, or even Acme Oyster House’s woodfire grilled oysters topped with Parmesan cheese (note to self – get back to New Orleans ASAP), but NOT in stuffing.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds kind of good,” or “I shall toss a virtual gauntlet at her for insulting great aunt Mildred’s famous oyster dressing!” or perhaps “I’ve had worse. Apples. Chestnuts. Craisins, for the love of god!” And you’d be right. And wrong. Heck, even I’m wrong for being anti-oyster stuffing. (Not really, but I’m playing my own Devil’s advocate) Because what you’re eating isn’t just stuffing. It’s never just stuffing. It’s a forkful of the past. Your past. And no matter if it’s oysters or apples or chestnuts, what you really taste is memories.
Thanksgiving isn’t just the bird, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It’s so many side dishes and desserts. Some are regional favorites; some reflect our ethic background. Others were created by a home economist in the 1940s for the war effort or for a brand, printed in a magazine ad, and recreated faithfully every year since. (Green bean casserole, I’m looking at you.) It’s a complex amalgamation of who we were, who we are, and who we desire to be.
You may be wondering what this has to do with writing. It has a lot, actually. Since I’m the main cook, to me, Thanksgiving is a day centered on the kitchen. It’s a constant game of Tetris – trying to get the food to fit in the fridge as well as trying to bend time to my will so all these disparate dishes come together at the same time. To my sister-in-law, the day centers around the family room and making sure guests are having a good time. For the kids, the day is about finding out that yes, their cousin Perry really is a jerk who would lock the four-year old in a dark closet in the basement and leave her there until much later when someone else notices she’s missing. (true story). There are as many points of view on what happens that day as there are people sitting around the dining table, and just because I see it as an oyster-free stuffing day doesn’t mean that those who ate the oyster stuffing see it incorrectly. Sometimes, conflict comes from equally valid points of view. That doesn’t mean there has to be a hero and a villain. There just has to be oysters, and those who have the good sense to leave them out of the bird.