I always loved visiting my grandmother’s house in November. She was sure to have enamel bowls filled with tangerines and pecans. Usually it was just chilly enough to warrant using her ceramic gas heater to warm the living room. It always felt so cozy being there with my aunts and uncles and many cousins. I came to associate such things with the month of November. To this very day I have to have tangerines in my refrigerator and fresh pecans in my pantry when the eleventh month rolls around. It just doesn’t seem to feel right without them.
My Aunt Opal made pumpkin pie all year round but unless it was November we were never certain that she would have any available when we came to visit. Not so, in November. She never failed to have one ready for us whenever we chose to spend time with her then. Hers were absolutely the best that I have ever tasted. She didn’t even need a recipe to whip one up. The directions were all in her head. I used to love watching her roll out the pie dough and mix the ingredients for the filling. She always had some interesting story to tell us while her weathered hands did their work. I can still see her working the dough with her old rolling pin and stirring the creamy mixture that would gel into pure deliciousness. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
My mother liked to take the pecans that were so plentiful in November and bake them up into a pie. She transformed those nuts into a delectable southern delight. She was rather famous for her special recipe. I recall a time when she took one of her pies to a party and placed it next to a pecan pie that somebody else had prepared. When a friend of mine heard that one of Mama’s famous creations was there she rushed in to claim a piece before the dessert was gone. She took one bite and spit it back on the plate exclaiming, “This isn’t your mom’s pie! Where did this come from?” Luckily the baker of the less tasty treat wasn’t around to hear her insult but my mother had caught the gist of the conversation and quickly came to the rescue with a slice of her pie. From then on my friend always checked to be certain that she was getting nobody else’s pecan pie but Mama’s.
Yesterday after visiting with my in-laws my husband and I ventured over to the Airline farmer’s market. We were greeted by the sound of the nut cracking machine that was busy opening pounds and pounds of fresh pecans. It is a sound that I have heard each November for as long as I can remember. It tells me that my birthday is coming soon and that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Its click clack is so comforting. It is much like hearing a train rumbling down the tracks in the dark of night. It is a link to some of the most wondrous times in my past.
While at the market I also saw a huge display of tangerines. I rushed over immediately to fill a bag. The aroma of citrus filled my senses and told me that I will be enjoying juicy fruit in the coming days. I feel content in knowing that I am able to find such delightful items so close to my home.
We really do live in a land of plenty. I had a friend who grew up in Germany at the same time that I was experiencing a childhood in the United States. He often spoke of playing in the rubble of his city of Bremen which had been bombed continuously during World War II. He developed scurvy because of the lack of vitamin C. For most of his lifetime fruits and vegetables were a luxury. He told of a time when an aunt had a single tomato to share with the family and how it was prized as a precious delicacy. Each person took a thin slice and ate it as though it was pure gold. When he eventually moved to the United States he was astounded by the abundance that we all enjoyed. He never lost his appreciation for our country and the wealth that it provided him.
My mother always told me that her parents saw themselves as being rich simply because they always had good food on the table. They turned their backyard into a garden and raised animals for milk and meat. Even during the Great Depression they always had good meals created by my grandmother. Nothing was ever wasted. Even bones and peelings were boiled for broth for soups and seasonings. When the family ate fish my grandmother would consume the head and give the more savory parts to her children.
We sometimes forget how precious food was for our ancestors and rarely think about people in other parts of the world who are starving even as we fill garbage trucks with mountains of food that might otherwise save a life. We take our food for granted and rarely realize our good fortune in having a lovely orange or a bowl of nuts. We don’t want to think about small children with bloated bellies who are wracked with pain because they do not have enough sustenance. Thanksgiving simply doesn’t have the same meaning when we have never known want as it might feel like to truly experience grinding hunger.
In November I am thankful that my mother like her mother always found a way to keep our stomachs full. Sometimes our dinner was little more than a bowl of pinto beans but there was something on our table to sustain us even when our cupboard seemed to be bare. I often took egg sandwiches to school for lunch. At the time it embarrassed me because there were often complaints about the smell. Sometimes I chose not to eat rather than reveal my strange repast. I now think of how silly I was, especially when I consider the millions of people who would have thought themselves most fortunate to have something so tasty and wholesome to eat. In so many ways I have been spoiled.
It is in the small things that we feel the most delight. For me the tangerines, pecans and pumpkins that were the treats of my childhood Novembers are still a special treasure. When I eat them they are more than just tasty. They are ways of tangibly remembering some of the most happy times of my childhood and the special people who made it so. I can see my grandmother’s smile as she watches me enjoy a tangerine with the juice running down my chin as I laugh with my cousins. I can hear my Aunt Opal telling us wondrous tales as she shoves a pumpkin pie into the oven. I recall my mother whispering her secret recipe for making the best pecan pies. The taste of the food on my tongue jogs my memory and releases happy feelings that tell me just how wonderful my life has always been. It really is a great time of year to be thankful as I remember and appreciate.