The meals involved huge hunks of roasted meat. Turkeys or prime rib or a pork roast. Mashed potatoes, gravy, a vegetable casserole, homemade rolls and pie. Everybody knew everyone else's preferences. I didn't eat lima beans, my nephew didn't eat peas, Pat, my sister, liked her meat medium well done and my dad and I liked it medium rare. My sister made the best rolls. So she was always asked to bring the rolls--big fluffy crescent rolls. My aunt could have happily ignored the whole meal and just eaten rolls. Aunt Marie often brought seven layer salad. I love seven layer salad. And I love green bean casserole. I know I'm not supposed to, they're kitsch food. But I do.
And the pies. My mother, my sister and my aunt all made pies. Pecan pies with real whipped cream. Cherry pies from my aunt's cherry tree with the incredibly sour cherries. Lemon Chiffon, and pumpkin. All from scratch. Every dinner ended in pie and a discussion of the meal. The hostess usually complained that the meat was too done or not done enough, and everybody praised the pies and talked about the crust. Was the crust short--mom liked her crusts short, Marie preferred them not so short. I didn't know what they were talking about and long after I started contributing to meals (and got a reputation as a good but weird cook) I avoided baking pie for fear I would screw up the crust.
About ten years, we were all at my Aunt Marie's--she's dead now, and she moved to New Mexico a couple of years before she died so this may have been one of the last big holiday meals. My grandmother has been gone since the eighties. My sister was making gravy at the stove and I was putting out food. Pat and I had made most of the dinner--something I didn't even realize until I saw her pouring the gravy. My kid was roaming around somewhere bored and Bill was there with his wife and kids and I realized that Pat and I had become the generation that cooked. My mom and my aunt were old. Pat and I were middle aged.
I was disturbed by the realization.
This year it's in the 70's here in Austin, and I've got family flying in right after Christmas for the holidays. Adam and Jason and Brad and Gary and Jane. I'm looking forward to the cooking. I'm not making any of the old stand-bys. I made turkey for Thanksgiving and a pumpkin pie, but for New Years I'll do lots of fun kind of nibble food. We might roll our own sushi. But it has become comfortable to me to think that holidays mark the passing of time. That we make our families anew every year. It's no coincidence that this is the darkest time of the year and in many ways, the hardest. It's such a triumph that so many of us have such good associations.