Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | November 25, 2010

It’s Thanksgiving…there’s always room for one more

So Thanksgiving is upon us.

Late last night I got off the phone with my mother.  She asked me what time dinner was and then informed me that she was bringing some vegetables for the feast.  I braced myself and asked, “What kind?”  “Brussel sprouts.”  — Of course.  It just means that we’ll be having a quadruple batch instead of the normal double batch that the family expects and devours.  Having too much of one dish seems to be a tradition.

Growing up, our tradition was to be nomadic.   My mom was a single mom with two kids.  We lived in a small house.  But we had a large extended family, so we went to many houses for the holidays.  As a kid, I remember dinners at my grandfather’s house in Chinatown.  The dinner would be a hybrid of American and Chinese-American food.  Turkey rubbed with soy sauce and stuffed with sticky rice dressing, gravy, steamed rice, potatoes, carrots, bok choy, green beans, salad, pumpkin pie, custard pie, Belfast Sparkling Cider (containing no apple juice), coffee and tea.

I always remember the opening of the See’s candy box.  We’d get a sharp knife and cut the pieces in half because we weren’t sure that we’d like the flavors of the unfamiliar squares that could be nougat or bordeaux or mocha.  Luckily for me, my family preferred the milk chocolate pieces, so for several years I could grab the ones I liked without competition.

Then as my grandfather got older, we’d go to my grand-aunt Winnie’s house in Berkeley.  The bonus of dinner here was the Christmas tree that was erected waiting for the dinner 4 weeks later.

After my grandfather passed away, we went to my godmother’s house in San Jose.  This was when I was introduced to the more “American” traditional dishes and the new California Cuisine that sprouted in the 1970s.  My first experiences with green bean casserole and spinach salad with red onion and oranges.  I also noticed that the turkey was drier.

Then in my  teen years, the family dinners moved to my uncle’s apt in the Castro when he moved there.  It was so nice.  I felt like it was the best place because there were always wonderful dishes that honored our Chinese-American traditions and the Southern traditional foods that my uncle grew up with in Georgia.  He also had friends who came over for family dinners because they no longer went home – Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, Alabama. This was the real beginning of my love of families of choice.  I could sit and talk with Fred about his childhood and snow, or his days dancing in the ballet.  Fred taught me how to make French onion soup  from scratch.  Jimmy in his leather jacket and combat boots would bring a brilliant pecan pie.  I can’t remember who it was who brought the buttermilk pie.   Sometimes it was a competition between 3 varieties of sweet potatoes or yams or mashed potatoes. The only staple was that we had a turkey and some form of rice.  We always made jook with the carcass afterward.  We never knew who was coming to Thanksgiving, so the traditions were shared from the families of whomever was at the dinner.  When my uncle moved back to Georgia shortly before he died, I felt like Thanksgiving had lost a bit of magic.  My nomadic family returned to my godmother’s for holidays.

When I was engaged to Husby, I started going to his family Thanksgiving.  That meant Aunt Alice and Uncle John’s house in Oroville.  It was a huge family dinner, including the members of 7 or 8 households, including Grandma and Grandpa Cain.  I think we counted 40 chairs one year.  And the tables crawled from the back door to the livingroom.   I felt right at home when I was invited to the kitchen to help get dishes to the table.  Dinner was usually 2 turkeys, a vat of gravy, a mountain of potatoes, and the various side dishes and desserts that the women of the family brought to the house.  When I married Husby, I finally was promoted to the ranks who were expected to bring something to share.  I brought the sourdough-Italian sausage-artichoke dressing that I learned to make from the dinners in the Castro.  The bonus of those dinners was the traditional post-feast basketball game and movie excursion to the mall.  About 7 years ago, Aunt Alice and Uncle John sold the house and the dinners moved to their eldest daughter’s house.  We stopped going to those huge family gatherings, but on occasion we’d import a Thanksgiving dinner so Husby’s parents didn’t have to travel.  If we’re up there, we still call Cousin Larry  to see if we’re going to the movies.

But really for me, Thanksgiving is about a gathering of family and family of choice.   For me, a tradition  is having a large extended family-family of choice that changes or morphs every year.

Mom:  “So how would you feel if Larry came for dinner?”
Magaidh: “Duh…of course he’s welcome!  I just didn’t know he was in town!  (Larry is one of my unofficial foster siblings I had growing up.)  …Hey, what about George? (-another family friend)…”
Mom: “I’ll call him.”

Yes, my family is also known for last-minute details and gathering the late comers.  It has led to my philosophy that whomever comes is supposed to be at our table, and there is always room for one more.

Today we set the table for 8, only expecting 6 confirmed guests.  If we need another setting or 3, we’ll find them.  Tonight we will gather and see who shows up.  And we will give thanks for having warmth and food, for having memories to recall and share, and people who will stand by our side and hold us steady in the hard times and  laugh with us in the good times.

Happy Thanksgiving.  May you be blessed.

Aunt Magaidh



  1. Blessings to you and yours as well! XOXO

  2. And there was one Thanksgiving when you took in a stray moose wandering the streets of Boston… Still one of my favorite Thanksgivings!

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