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24 November 2005
I spoke with my mother about Thanksgiving. Walt has now been to Santa Barbara to have "Thanksgiving" with his mother and we will have a smaller-than-usual dinner with my mother on Thursday.
He has tickets for the symphony on Wednesday, so I suggested he drop me off at my mother's on the way to San Francisco and then I could help her get ready for the holiday dinner and he could come back the next day (and will be home to feed the dogs and clean up any disasters that Latte leaves in my absence).
So I called my mother this morning to let her know I'd be there to help her get ready for Thanksgiving. She was thrilled. Then she added:
"I talked with Tom. He's going to make baked Alaska."
Tom and I went out to dinner with Walt's cousin many years ago. We ate at the Cliff House in San Francisco and for dessert we had baked Alaska. Tom, who has been the family gourmet chef since he was a young kid and learned how to make omelettes, was fascinated by the idea of broiling ice cream and so he decided he wanted to learn how to make it.
That Thanksgiving--I don't remmeber which year now, but a very long time ago. Prior to that I had been the dessert queen, the person who supplied the pumpkin pies for our Thanksgiving feast. But now I was being upstaged by my own son.
And he made a fantastic baked Alaska. It was such a hit that he instantly took over the role of Thanksgiving dessert baker.
But that was OK. Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, but those were the years when we were going to Lake Tahoe and spending the weekend, so I would still make the pies and we would eat them for breakfast the next morning, and snack on them throughout the day, and have the leftovers for dinner. Pumpkin pie wasn't just for dessert any more.
How can you not get up at 3 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving dinner and sneak a piece of pumpkin pie?
Pumpkin pie was always more than just a pie. It was a whole tradition that started with picking out the biggest pumpkin in the pumpkin patch before Halloween, then carving it into a jack-o-lantern, and then, when Halloween was over, getting together with my friend Char to make pies.
Lots and lots and lots of pies.
We would cut up and clean our pumpkins and bake them until they could be mashed. Then we'd get together in my kitchen in Oakland and start baking. She would do the pumpkin itself because she didn't like to make crust.
I am the queen of pie crust, so I would make all the pie crusts.
In the meantime, our 10 children would be playing at our feet.
There was the year one of them fell down the back stairs.
That may have been the same year one tried to crawl into the hot oven.
And when it was all over, there were gleaming pumpkin pies sitting on the kitchen counter--and no big freezer to put them in, so we would go around and give them to our friends.
I remember the year Char was carrying her pies out to her car and one flipped over and landed upside down on the sidewalk. A guy passing by at just that moment said "$1 for it--as is."
And then there were the pumpkin tosses. (I told this story in 2000, when I had no readers...) I know that Char lives in fear of the day when I will (a) find the pumpkin pie movie, (b) figure out how to transfer 8 mm to digital, and (c) post it on the web. (Rest easy, my friend--I'm still at (a))
It was the year of 32 pumpkin pies, and Cam crawling in the oven and high hilarity. We were up to our eyebrows already in pumpkin, exhausted from a day of chasing kids and mashing pumpkin and she turned to me and said "I feel so silly, I'll let you toss a pie in my face."
Well, who would pass up an invitation like that? After all, we had more pumpkin pies than we could ever use.
It couldn't just be simple, of course. We called in the neighbors, we got out the cameras, we gathered the children. We stood under my Myer lemon bush and in a moment it was over. I had not only "tossed" a pie in her face, I had smeared it in her face and the dog at our feet was lovin' it. I never thought about what might happen the following year. We had now set a precedent.
"You know what this means for next year, don't you?" she said, with a menacing gleam in her eye.
The next year I met her at the door, dressed in a raincoat. We laughed a lot. When our pies for that year were all baked the time finally came. We now were into this whole filming thing, so we staged a chase scene (setting the stage, I'm sure, for our children's entire life, filming chase scenes!) which culminated back under the Myer lemon bush, with the dog waiting expectantly for the pumpkin custard to drop like doggie manna from heaven.
By year 3, the kids had been watching their mothers act like idiots for two years. They were also 2 years older and they demanded their turn. David was the baby that year, just 8 months old.
We baked 10 little tiny pies and gave each child a pie.
Solemnly, they marched out the front door, single file, and down the steps to the front lawn. I followed, carrying David and his own little pie. I sat him on the grass and got the camera (naturally the kids waited until the film was rolling). We gave them the signal and the first pie was tossed. For a moment it seemed like it was going to be rather anti-climactic, since they all tossed their pies and then just looked at each other as if to say "is that all?" Then one of the older girls picked up the tossed pumpkin and began smearing the custard on the stomach of one of the boys. The melee began in earnest. If our neighbors thought us weird before, this clinched it. There was pumpkin smeared on bodies, in hair, and in the grass (in case you wonder: pumpkin custard does not wash out of grass. It has to wear out--our lawn was covered with pumpkin for weeks). Even David got pumpkin smeared in his face. He loved it.
The movie is lost. I think Char put a hex on it because she's so afraid it will get out. But it still stands out as either the high, or low point in the early years of our children.
But on Thanksgiving, we'll have Baked Alaska and I won't be tempted to cut a huge slice of pie at 3 a.m. And I probably won't throw any food at anybody during the day either. Sometimes it's too bad that we grow up and start behaving like responsible adults. It's so much more fun to be a kid.
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