A few things are consistent for me around Thanksgiving. First, I can always count on my lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre to resurrect his greatest business idea: Toby and Tom’s Hot Turkey Wings! “Remember when we were kids?” He says dreamily. “Getting stuck with the chicken wing was like losing a bet, but now an entire industry has been built on the part of the chicken everyone used to hate . . .”
He is right, chicken wings were so low on the food chain in my family that we wouldn’t even give them to the dog for fear she might choke, but I always had my gullet full of them, mostly because I was the youngest and slowest of seven at the dinner table. Whoever turned them into a business was a genius, but each Thanksgiving I must suffer through Toby and Tom’s Turkey Hot Wings. Everyone has a crazy uncle like this during the holidays, and Toby is my Thanksgiving tradition. I can never eat turkey without thinking of giant hot wings. Mostly, however, I think of my mom this time of year.
Barbara Jean claimed to be ninety-eight-pounds soaking wet. When my dad died, she faced the world alone with seven children. At the time, we lived in Florida, and our nearest relatives were fifteen hundred miles away, but nothing intimidated that woman. Shortly after my father’s death, she threw a dart at a map (so I have been told), and we moved across the country – just her, seven kids, and two young vagabonds named Hank and Fudgy. That started a journey that crisscrossed four states and a dozen towns. My mom was tough as nails and fearless, and she did everything for her children, but our life was a little crazy at times.
But that woman could cook! I grew up eating things like borscht, arroz con pollo, home-made stroganoff, couscous, and her Italian food made with “authentic” Italian sausage bought from Krebs, Oklahoma. She was like an international food fair all rolled up in a tiny package. Her best dish, however, was hands-down her Thanksgiving stuffing. This was back during the time when people still stuffed the bird (back before salmonella, I suppose) and it was heavenly.
During the Holidays, however, she became Martha Stewart. She stuck to Thanksgiving traditions that brought a sense of normalcy. She showed her love by selflessly providing for us and by feeding whoever wandered by for Thanksgiving dinner each year. I also remember her this time of year because she was a lunch lady, once in a school and once in a prison. So, when I see the excitement of staff and students for the annual Thanksgiving lunch each year, I am thankful for them, and I think of her. (Clearly, I am unapologetically partial to lunch ladies.)
As crazy and unpredictable as life has become recently, we really need Thanksgiving, for it is when we settle into old traditions and count our blessings. Honestly, it is very hard to be grumpy or mean when we are thankful, for gratitude is like my mom’s warm stuffing during Thanksgiving. It brought us all together and slowed down the chaos.
The world seems like it’s spinning apart, but it just might be falling into place. Perhaps, Thanksgiving 2021 will refocus us on what matters: God, family, friends, and our blessings to be Americans and Okies. Who knows? It could be our turning point. And if your crazy uncle tries to sell you on the idea of turkey hot wings this week, don’t burst his bubble with Toby and Tom’s Hot Turkey Wings. Let him have his moment and offer them another helping of mom’s stuffing. One day, you will cherish that moment, trust me.