Cathy Hamilton: Some traditions remain sacred birds


She looked as if I just murdered her new puppy.

“You mean, you’re not going to make your famous stuffing this year?” my daughter asked, lower lip quivering. “But, nobody makes it like you!”

“I’m still going to make stuffing,” I assured her. “I’m just using quinoa instead of cornbread, that’s all.”

“Quinoa?” my son repeated, incredulously, as he barged into his childhood home, unannounced.

“Yes, quinoa. It’s a highly digestible, healthy grain. I sampled some the other day, and it was delicious. I found a recipe with squash, dried apricots and cranberries. It’ll be great, and much better for us, too!”

He looked up at the ceiling, then bowed his head and shut his eyes tightly, as if seeking divine guidance for what he was about to say.

(Pause here for dramatic effect.)

“Mother, have I ever told you Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year?”

“I think you might have mentioned it.”

He cut me off.

“I love it more than Christmas,” my son declared, piously. “Do you know WHY I love it so? The FOOD. Thanksgiving is all about the food. Yes, and the fellowship ...”

(Wait! Did he just say “fellowship”? This is a dude who answers his phone, “Yo!” I’ve never heard him speak this way. Ever.)

“The mingling with family and the gratitude, of course,” he went on.

“Of course,” I echoed.

“But the traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the traditional trimmings. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

I turned to my husband, who was attempting to sneak out to the garage.

“A little help here?” I pleaded.

(Pause here for hemming and hawing.)

“Uh, er, ahem ... I’m sure whatever your mother wants to fix will be the right choice,” my husband lamely muttered, convincing no one.

My two adult children — and, by “adult,” I mean well over 21 — groaned in unison. My daughter choked back tears. Her brother led her out the door and off to the neighborhood bar for consolation.

Then, I had an epiphany, the realization of a universal truth immortalized by none other than Jim Croce:

“You can tug on Superman’s cape,

You can spit into the wind,

You can pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger

But you don’t mess around with Thanksgiving.”

I should have learned my lesson years ago when I made the ultimate holiday faux pas. I’m referring to what we Hamiltons have come to call “The Cranberry Sauce Fiasco of 1988.”

It was the peak of Martha Stewart madness, pre-prison, pre-Rachael Ray. I was a hand-dyed-in-the-wool Martha wannabe, complete with WWMD (What Would Martha Do?) rubber bracelet and matching garden clogs.

I embellished handmade hostess gifts with raffia. I owned two glue guns - one for each hand. Once, I actually served martinis from a bottle of homemade cranberry vodka with fruit slices and fresh flowers encased in ice. (It is still the high point of my hostess career.)

Martha would never serve her family anything — gasp! — canned, especially for Thanksgiving. So, when the big day arrived, I set about making my own, made-from-scratch cranberry sauce.

The family sat down at the table to a spread that would have made the doyenne of domesticity olive with envy. Even the napkin rings were made by my loving hands — wishbones, saved from roast chickens, spray-painted with chrome paint and tied with silver cord. (I kid you not.)

Amid oohs and ahhs, happy Thanksgiving campers passed serving dishes to and fro.

Then, my teenage son said, “Pass the cranberries, please.”

I offered him a charming Lancaster serving bowl, filled to the brim with piquant, crimson sauce.

“That’s not cranberries,” my young daughter cried. “It’s all, like, lumpy. And it doesn’t even wiggle!”

“That jellied stuff in the can is for amateurs,” I told them. “This is homemade. You’ll love it!”

I looked across the table at my husband. He looked up at the ceiling, then bowed his head and shut his eyes tightly, as if seeking divine guidance for what he was about to say.

(Pause here for dramatic effect.)

But, he said nothing. Nobody said anything. For the remainder of the meal.

It was the longest dinner of my life.

That is why I did not make quinoa stuffing Thursday, opting for my go-to cornbread concoction instead. And why I always serve jellied cranberry sauce from a can.

Some traditions just can’t be turkeyed with.

Jim Croce would understand.

Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author.


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