Family traditions are meant to provide a sense of identity or belonging. There is one in particular that works beautifully for the three families of which I’m now blessed to be a part. More on that in a little bit…
First, I’d like to share a few memorable moments that seem to surface every year at Thanksgiving in our home. I’m sure there’s one to which you can relate.
There was the year that a gust of wind blew over the turkey fryer, spilling peanut oil on my parent’s new patio. We were thankful the oil didn’t catch fire. Or the year that my sister, then six years old, declared that she needed to wear underwear on her head because, as she put it, “The lunch ladies at school have something on their head when they cook!” We were thankful the underwear was clean. And then there was the year that my daughter, Audrey, then age five, calmly walked over to my mom and whispered, “Um, Grandma, there is a fire in your oven!” We were thankful the fire was contained to the oven.
The list goes on… stories that enhance the actual tradition.
My mom would wake us up early on Thanksgiving morning so that we could prepare the turkey. We would all put on aprons, and my sister would add her idea of lunch lady head covering. We would help my mom cover the outside of the turkey with butter and herbs, a task that we all were kind of squeamish about. The turkey was cold and slimy. We knew after touching the butter and the turkey that we could not touch anything else until our hands were scrubbed with soap. But also, we fought to grab the last bit of butter.
While we were doing that, she’d finish the stuffing and we’d get to stuff the turkey. Then we’d clean up and get the bird in the oven and eat breakfast. My dad was busy cooking bacon and eggs and a little known delicacy called fried mush. It’s basically fried polenta. Mush was the poor man’s term for it. I’d put a little maple syrup on it, and my dad would dip it in his eggs.
After filling our bellies with breakfast, we’d watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football until the afternoon. If it was nice enough, we’d go outside and play, working up an appetite for the big feast. All the while, my mom would be busy preparing the other parts of the Thanksgiving dinner, occasionally asking for help to peel potatoes or assemble the green bean casserole.
Then about 20 minutes before we’d eat – here’s that tradition I mentioned earlier – my mom would get out the heavy whipping cream, have us all sit in a circle, and we’d make butter. The whipping cream goes into a jar, in my mom’s case, whatever empty jar she had. Maybe the pasta sauce jar from our weekly spaghetti dinner, or one year it was an old pickle jar that still had a pickle smell to it. The butter that year had a unique flavor.
We passed the jar around, shaking as hard and as long as our arms could handle, until it magically turned into butter. While shaking it, we’d share something for which we were thankful. When we were really little, it would be for things like toys or no school. And every single year, it would get to the whipped cream stage, and I was sure it was done. It didn’t feel like the shaking was doing anything. And then moments later, a ball of butter formed, leaving the buttermilk to slosh around it. The transformation seemed like such a miracle!
Somehow that special butter, made with our own hands, tasted so much better than store bought butter, even if it was a little pickle flavored!
In addition to my family and my husband’s, I introduced this tradition to my colleagues at JPII Newman.
Before we sat down to “Staffsgiving”, we started the jar around the table, shaking and sharing things for which we were grateful. This year’s overriding responses were our students, our supporters, and each other.
There are other traditions here: Decorating the Christmas tree during a Community Night in December, the Immaculate Conception party at Archbishop Lucas’ house, and groups of friends participating in rosary walks or night prayer.
I am hopeful that those traditions will continue here for years to come because – even though the staff and students aren’t related – JPII Newman is a family.