It’s been three years since the light of my life passed at 93 years of awesome, wise age. If you read my blog, you know that Grandma was my other mother, my inspiration, the one who believed in me when the world gave me up and my mentor. Now, I can’t imagine that some of our ideas would mesh on religion, but she taught me that I was ‘specially loved by “God,” aka The Great Spirit, that I was different and therefore should be more responsible with my word and that you get back what you put down on this dirt. We are approaching Thanksgiving, a holiday I have more than a might of trouble swallowing (pun intended) and here she sits, right behind me, egging me on to come to terms. As I never was a fan of making her ornery, I reckon I best get to it.
How do we negotiate so many things as Pagans?? Thanksgiving and Native heritage, Christmas and Yule, Christian family prayers and divination? As a Southerner, these are specifically heart-wrenching. Whenever I “studied” on a situation that cramped my spirit, Grandma would point out the similarities rather than the obvious disparities that griped my rear: we must gather together and give thanks for each other, or God loves everyone, baby. I figure my ancestors negotiated these fractures through the preparation and exaltation of food. You can get through any family holiday with the right sweet potato souffle (add bacon and anything is crack), any funeral with enough dark-cornered, cheddar-crusted squash casserole, and any argument with a Mississippi Mud or Coca Cola cake. These things are true. Blessed be. And Amen.
Now, I do not buy into to the capitalist crap shoved down my throat about the first Thanksgiving. I just bet Native peoples were all: wtf, we better feed these white folk or they gonna die, rather than: oh, do set out the linens and we’ll bring the corn. Y’all are fine friends. Makes my ass itch just to think of the legends and myths built on justifications and rationalizations. But, maybe as myth always does, it can give us some kind of moral in which to deal with the pain of betrayal, the fear of ambush or the anger and assault of ignorance. Perhaps my Grandma’s adage of “kill ’em with kindness” had more emphasis on the verb, after all. Hmmm. Maybe it had more to do with the murder of ill intent and rotten motive. If Native peoples did hand over sweet corn, did they buy time? Were they imprinting themselves upon the memory of a people who would later torture, murder and encase them in neat institutional, government-sanctioned cases called reservations? (I suppose they did have some “reservations” about my ancestors running amuck on their own soil. Slippery word, that.) As inappropriate and twisted as it is, have you ever seen a public school Thanksgiving play without an “Indian” or ever known a fifth-grader who preferred to be a Pilgrim? Didn’t think so. Corn, it was. (And Anglo Saxons have an, ahem, “rough” time processing that particular vegetable.) I hope the original Natives of America saw that writing on the wall and made a few letters their own — with the offering of food.
Grandma knew this well. She knew I would remember her, her mother Bubo, and all of our people through her teachings over a stove. One night, when I was about nigh seven years old, I was “hankerin” for something sweet and no Oreos were to be found in the cupboard. Gran bit on her nails a spell, then decidedly stood and drug my butt into the kitchen. I was to get schooled on being Southern and poor, on what the Great Depression did for cooking: something out of nothing and kitchen magic in its raw form. Pie crust was formed and rolled over flour-dusted wood, butter was smeared and crusted with dark cocoa and sugar, sprinkled with cinnamon, then rolled into a log by worn, knotty hands. The whole shabang was painted with egg yolk, dusted with more sugar, and baked off to then be cut into biscuits that melted slow and sweet, salty and crusty onto the tongue. And the whole time, she found a venue for memory and history that my stubborn attention span might never have been blessed enough to receive if it had not been mesmerized by the whole, creative process. You see, tater head, we didn’t have no money for store-bought cookies. My momma made this oughta love so that we would have somethin’ sweet. Yor’ daddy (she always confused grandaddy for that, never met him) loved melted butter on chocolate . . . Later, when the sugar-rationin’ came, this was special for company. You work it like this . . .
Now, true love means dropping the cookbook and moving my hands to create something of sustenance, something real and hearty and soul-gratifying. It carts memories through time and lands in your stomach like the smooth caress of a grandmother. I never forgot. Miss you, Grandma.
Here it is, though, that dreaded holiday Thanksgiving. As a Kitchen Witch, you would think I’d have a better attitude, all things considered . . . it’s just that I feel this deep urge to notate its origins and bring a little history to the table. I’d be hard-pressed to believe that the first Native people were ignorant; after all, they had soothsayers and medicine men and women and elders who all held the hand of the future. Naw, I think they knew the sorrow to come, foretold the forgetfulness of their legacies and shoved a little corn up the ass of history. I need to believe this when I sit down at that table on Thursday with my mother’s sweet potato souffle and my Grandma’s cornbread stuffing. I need to believe this when I pass around my portobella, roasted oyster and green bean casserole to my children. I will believe this when we laugh and wipe gravied mouths and fight over drumsticks and tell stories of Mee Maw, Bubo, and — I suppose– when they tell stories of me, aka Mom. Because it’s more than food.