Forget those other holidays, I'm all about the food

You've got your Christmas lovers, your Valentine's Day aficionados and those who live for the Fourth of July parades and fireworks. Heck, I bet there even are a few folks who adore Groundhog Day.

Me? I'm all about Thanksgiving.

For one thing, it's apolitical and nondenominational. (OK, that's two things.) Every American can celebrate this day of gratitude without copping attitudes over red or blue issues or who has God on his or her side. And, frankly, as we wind up this interminable election cycle, I am exceedingly thankful for that.

Which brings me to the welcoming aspect of this bonhomie holiday. No candy-wielding, rose-toting partners required. This is a holiday about inclusion. About making a place at the table for old friends and new. And for inviting in those who may be alone. I can't remember a Thanksgiving that didn't include a wide selection of family members. But I love the fact that this is a holiday NOT strictly about familial ties.

There always were a few folks who livened up our Thanksgiving table who were flying solo for one reason or another. They brought their own interesting stories and a fresh perspective to our family traditions. There is nothing like watching someone witnessing our time-honored traditions to help us see them anew.

I also like the fact that Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to our country. I don't know how old I was when I realized the whole world didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. I remember being startled I was so slow on the uptake. But I can be a bit myopic at times.

Speaking of myopia, perhaps it's not politically correct in some quarters of our own country to celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, if one is an American Indian, I suppose he or she might have some second thoughts about being quite so helpful to those pointy-hatted Pilgrims on that first Turkey Day. But I like to think we're all in a forgiving spirit these days.

Thanksgiving also makes me happy because it ushers in all the winter holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza. But one thing I do find unforgivable is when the Santa-lovers crowd my holiday. Pushy buggers. I know we're all supposed to be shopping till we drop to support our flagging economy, but I don't want to hear a single chorus of piped-in "Jingle Bells" until I've heard some school kids piping "Over the River and Through The Woods."

And then there is the cornucopia. Any holiday that is celebrated by feasting is tops in my book. You can't top Thanksgiving for food. I can already taste the butter-basted turkey, cornbread stuffing, roasted root veggies, rich giblet gravy, creamy mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream. Plus, we all know Thanksgiving leftovers simply are the best.

My mom could cook a roast or bake a pie like nobody's business. But she was a four-square traditionalist. Salt and pepper were exotic spices in Mom's cookbook. Born with a more adventurous palate, I yearned to taste it all. And learned to spread my culinary wings watching Uncle Frank cut loose on Thanksgiving.

Uncle Frank was a man who cooked with a lot of love. And a lot of laughter. Long before it was fashionable on Food TV, this former Army cook was putting smoked oysters and spicy sausage in his stuffing, or placing sage and rosemary leaves under the skin of his turkeys. One year Uncle Frank headed out to the backyard. Cheerfully chomping on his big old stogie, he commenced to barbecuing his "big ole bird." From the clucking of the matriarchal hens, you'd have thought the man was committing holiday blasphemy.

Maybe he was tweaking our menu a bit. But I thought it was wicked cool, in the vernacular of the day. And I gobbled up more than my fair portion of the smoky bird after it was presented at table alongside the more traditional offerings — my Aunt's raspberry Jell-O salad and my grandmother's creamy buttermilk smashed taters.

All this wandering down holiday tables past is making me nostalgic — and hungry.

I'll be working here at the Trib this Thanksgiving, covering the cops shift. I'm thankful to have such great memories. Grateful to have a job that lets me share them with y'all. And hopeful that my sis will save me a slice of pumpkin pie this Thursday.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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