With All The Trimmings by Garrison Keillor
It is a wicked world in which the power of any individual to cause
suffering is so great and the power to do good is so slight; but here we are,
the week of our beloved national feast, our annual homecoming, and signs of
loving Providence are everywhere around us.
I am thankful to be alive. In Minnesota the lakes are freezing over in
late November, and some men who envision a leadership role for themselves take
their snowmobiles out onto the thin ice and fall through and drown in the cold
water--their last thought in this life: "Boy, was this dumb or
what?"--and so far I have not been one of them. Caution was bred into me:
I never played with guns or made a hobby of pharmaceuticals or flung myself off
a cliff while clinging to a kite. I read books instead. I read books in which
men hearken to wild imperatives, and that is enough for me.
I am thankful for living in a place where winter gets good and cold and
you need to build a fire in a stove and wrap a blanket around you. Cold draws
people closer together. Crime drops. Acts of kindness proliferate between
strangers. I have been in Los Angeles on a balmy day in January and seen the
glum faces of people poking at their salads in outdoor restaurants, brooding
over their unproduced screenplays. People in Minnesota are much cheerier,
lurching across the ice, leaning into the wind as sheets of snow swirl up in
their faces. Because they feel needed and because cold weather takes the place
of personal guilt. Maybe you haven't been the shining star you should have
been, but now is not the time to worry about it.
I am thankful for E-mail, which allows us to keep in touch with our
children, and for the ubiquity of fresh coffee, the persistence of good
newspapers, the bravery of artists, the small talk of sales clerks, the general
competence and good humor I encounter every day. None of us is self-sufficient,
despite what some politicians claim. Every good thing, every morsel of food
comes directly from God, who expects us to pay attention and be joyful, a large
task for people from the Midwest, where our idea of a compliment is, "It
could have been worse."
I am thankful, of course, for Thanksgiving, a joyful and simple day that
never suffered commercial exploitation and so is the same day as when I was a
boy and we played touch football on the frozen turf and came to the table
sweaty and in high spirits and kept our eyes open for flying food. My sister
had good moves; you'd look away for an instant, and she'd flip her knife and
park a pat of butter on your forehead. Nobody throws food at our table now, but
in the giddiness of the festive moment, I have held a spoonful of cranberry for
a moment and measured the distance to Uncle Earl, his gleaming head, like El
Capitan, bent over the plate.
As I grew up, Thanksgiving evolved perfectly. It used to be that men had
the hard work, which is to sit in the living room and make conversation about
gas mileage and lower back pain, and women got the good job, which is cooking.
Women owned the franchise, and men milled around the trough mooing, and if any
man dared enter the kitchen, he was watched closely lest he touch something and
damage it permanently.
But I bided my time, and the aunts who ran the show grew old, and young,
liberated lady relatives came along who were proud of their inability to cook,
and one year I revolted and took over the kitchen--and now I am It. The Big
Turkey. Mr. Masher. The Pie Man. Except for gravy and pie crust, which take
patience and practice, Thanksgiving dinner is as easy to make as it is to eat.
You're a right-handed batter in a park that's 150 feet down the left-field
line—it doesn't take a genius to poke it out.
Years of selective breeding have produced turkeys that are nothing but
cooking pouches with legs. You rub the bird's inside with lemon, stuff it with
bread dressing seasoned with sage and tarragon and jazzed up with chunks of
sausage and nuts and wild rice, shove it in a hot oven; meanwhile, you whomp up
yams and spuds and bake your pies.
The dirty little secret of the dinner is melted animal fats: in all the
recipes, somewhere it says, "Melt a quarter-pound of butter." Think
of the fancy dishes you slaved over that became disasters, big dishes that were
lost in the late innings. Here's roast turkey, which tastes great, and all you
do is baste. You melt butter, you nip at the wine, and when the turkey is done,
you seat everyone, carve the bird, sing the doxology and pass the food.
The candles are lit in the winter dusk, and we look at one another, the
old faces and some new ones, and silently toast the Good Life, which is here
before us. Enjoy the animal fats and to hell with apologies. No need to defend
our opinions or pretend to be young and brilliant. We still have our faculties,
and the food still tastes good to us.
Walt Whitman said, "I find letters from God dropped in the street,
and every one is signed by God's name." Thanksgiving is one of those
signed letters. Anyone can open it and see what it says.