Katherine Scheu | Col­legian

When I started rationing my protein bars the week before Thanks­giving, I knew I needed a trip home.

I fan­ta­sized about my mother’s cooking as I gnawed on the last of my cement-like energy bars and scarfed down quick dinners of scrambled eggs. Surely my family’s fridge would bulge with Kroger’s top selection of apples, kale, chicken, and gouda, and mom would have a steaming dish of some­thing deli­cious on our table the moment I walked in the door.

A crock pot of pulled pork sat on the counter when I rolled into Clarkston around 9 o’clock. All my Thanks­giving break dreams were coming true.

And then Wednesday came. My sisters and I scav­enged around the kitchen and made our­selves breakfast and lunch, but dinner proved a fiasco. The holiday company had arrived, and my parents wanted to order takeout, hoping to min­imize effort and mess on the eve of the year’s most intense day of cooking. It sounded easy, but then we had to pick a restaurant. 

I wanted Chinese. Lilly vied for Mediter­ranean. Betsy announced her need for pizza. 

I wanted Chinese. My mom reminded us that one family member is sen­sitive to MSG and two others need gluten-free options. Dad hoped to keep the order on the inex­pensive side. 

I wanted Chinese. My grand­father didn’t want to drive far to pick up our meal.

I just really wanted Chinese.

An hour later, as I begrudg­ingly stuffed chicken shawarma into a pita, I realized how much family com­pli­cates every­thing, espe­cially some­thing as simple as food. I’m used to grabbing a turkey club from A.J.’s Café or zipping down to Bon Appétit whenever I want, and sud­denly seven other people were hol­lering out their opinions on what we eat and when we eat it. I found myself wishing I could retreat to Hillsdale, fry an egg in Mauck’s kitchen, and move on with life. Any­thing to whisk me, the sage soon-to-be college graduate, away from my beloved family who takes an hour to order dinner.

On Thursday I sat and snapped green beans with my grand­mother, and we started talking about the Thanks­giving dinners she enjoyed as a little girl. She talked about Gra, my great-great-grand­mother, who would stir together an oozing mound of her sig­nature mac-and-cheese for any special occasion. It’s the best mac-and-cheese my Uncle Danny has ever tasted, I heard him rem­i­nisce from the other side of the room. A close second, though, is the bub­bling crock of mac he had from a local shop in his Man­hattan neigh­borhood.

My grand­mother and I ven­tured on to more family stories as we filled up our bowl with trimmed beans. She and her brothers used to snack on fresh-picked tomatoes they had rubbed on the cow’s salt lick at the family farm. Her grand­mother always made her mother black walnut cake on her birthday.

Every story she told was about food. I guess sen­timent melds with flavor to forge a special, long-lasting kind of memory. As we cooked and baked, I started looking outside myself to see the family who raised me and who, thank­fully, stands by my side today and those who aren’t with us anymore.

I rarely think about my mother’s grand­mother, my Great Grandma Read. But every time we dish up the apple­sauce at Thanks­giving dinner, I remember how she and her husband built their home together; how, as a child of the Depression, she saved every­thing; how she shel­tered her daughter and grand­daughters after a divorce; how she loved Indiana Uni­versity Bas­ketball, the Yankees, Dal­ma­tians, and pep­permint candy.

I thought for a moment this Thanks­giving that our tight kitchen buzzing with many voices might elim­inate any chance at a peaceful, home-cooked holiday meal. But, as usual, my family proved me wrong. We didn’t make it to turkey-carving time without a few argu­ments, but we did connect as a family and remember our loved ones as we made Thanks­giving dinner.

I’ll be driving home again in a little more than two weeks. Christmas joy will abound, as will family drama about food, gifts, tra­dition, and much more. If Thanks­giving taught me any­thing, it’s to relax, forget about my oh-so-pres­ti­gious, know-it-all college self, and just be with my family.