Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. And while some people use the occasion to pull out all the culinary stops, I do the same thing every year. The same thing my grandmothers did. And their mothers. And on back. There is some evolution, of course, but like all evolution, it can't be observed by the naked eye.
My ancestors haunt me this time of year. It's a most pleasant haunting. As I cook the things my grandmothers cooked, I feel as much a beloved grandaughter as I ever have. I'm being nurtured as I'm nurturing, carrying on a tradition for which food is an emotional shorthand for so much more.
After the dressing is made, the cranberry relish dished into crystal, and the jello salad sparks the attention of the little ones, the family gets together for a relaxing day of feasting, grazing, chatting, walking in the woods.
This year, that Rockwellian scene took a macabre twist.
It was a brilliant sunny day with a nip in the air. After dinner, my 14-year old son, Jack, and my daughter's boyfriend, Seth, decided to get the lay of the land exploring the hundreds of acres of woods around my parents' home. They were gone for about an hour when we realized Jack, who's a Type 1 diabetic, hadn't had his shot for dinner.
Thank goodness for cell phones. We got a good idea where they were, and my husband, Daryl, went off to find them. He had Jack's insulin in his pocket and two long guns, one over each shoulder, for target practice.
A bit of backstory here. I hate guns. I'm a city girl, and to me, they serve no other purpose than to hurt people, usually innocents. I loathe violence and consider it much more obscene than even the most renegade wardrobe malfunction. But I married a small town boy. Daryl had grown up with guns as a way of life; something to be respected, surely, but certainly nothing to be feared or hated.
You can imagine which parent's philosophy has become dominant in my adolescent son. And the truth is, I'm not overly bothered by it because all they ever do is stalk the wily Coke can. He's very responsible about it and has learned enormous respect for firearms. He's not a hot dog about it in even the smallest way.
So when Jack flew into the house saying, "I shot a deer! I shot a deer!" my jaw dropped and I was suddenly inarticulate.
My sister has four kids and teaches kindergarten that has sharpened her presence of mind to the point that nothing stops her. "You realize it's not deer season, don't you? You don't have a license, Jack! That's against the law."
I regained my voice and said, "Jack, tell me exactly what happened. Every last detail. Leave out nothing.
Seth and Daryl stood at the edges, arms crossed, poker faced.
Jack pushed the hair out of eyes, relishing the attention of the entire party. "Seth and I came down the hill and we saw him. It was a beauty. Eight points, and just standing still. Seth went around one way, I went around the other, and we thought we'd corner him. We kept getting closer, and closer, and closer. The buck wouldn't move."
Then Seth broke in, "Someone had already killed it, gutted it, and had mounted its head and pelt on a tree trunk. It was all there except for its left front leg. I guess it was some kind of a decoy. There was a deer blind not far away."
Jack opened his camera phone. "Told you I shot a deer."
And sure enough, there was a grainy image of a beautiful eight-point buck in some kind of grotesque approximation of life. It was chilling to behold, but I was just grateful no one of mine had any part in it.