On wax Pilgrims, Aunt Pooch's salad and things staying the same
I bought these candles as a gift for my sister, who always hosts our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. My mom had them when we were kids – though she never burned them, as we wanted to use them every year, and, no doubt, needed to save the money.
Back then, the candles got a little worn, their waxy edges rubbed soft after years of kids playing with them like toys. As we grew up and lost interest, the top of Mr. Pilgrim’s hat got a little dusty.
I know that the Pilgrims were from England, but it strikes me now these wax versions are awfully white. And are we supposed to believe that Mrs. Pilgrim brought her own Miss Clairol Sunwashed Blonde over on the boat?
This year we did all the same things we’ve done for at least seven years now, since Thanksgiving was moved to PK’s place. We had just 13 people sitting around her large wooden table this year, our usual number cut in half thanks to absences created by other invitations. The usual chaos of the many bodies from five-years-old to 98 (my brother-in-law’s dad) was dimmed.
My assignment is always that classic Midwestern layered salad with two of our indigenous ingredients, iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise. Or as we more accurately call it: Aunt Pooch’s Salad.
Mom brings at least five desserts, including pies and dozens of sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins and slathered with orange frosting. The children eat so many they need to be pulled from the ceiling by 10 a.m.
My other sister, AT, refuses to bring Green Bean Casserole, another Midwestern classic, but is struggling to find her signature dish. Her signature move during the annual Thanksgiving night dance party, however, stays the same.
My partner and her now 92-year-old mother always come to what they call the Lowelapalooza, which is a little overwhelming for them. To give them a brief respite from the loud oversharing and lavish overeating, we stay at The Cornhusker, which used to be Lincoln’s fanciest hotel but has since joined the Marriott chain. They bring what has come to be called Epic Stuffing (secret ingredient: a can of apple pie filling).
PK makes almost everything else, including the wild rice casserole (two pounds of sausage), party potatoes (cream cheese and garlic), and her glorious homemade bread, which has rosemary picked from her garden. I’ve seen stacks of those pound packages of butter in her fridge.
The main tradition is not exclusive to our family. We go around the table and each person says what they are thankful for this year. That’s even the little kids, and the five-year-old this year charmed everyone when he mixed up thanks and wishes and said he wanted his grandpa to live forever. “Mic drop,” my partner said.
Mom said something about how this year seemed different, referencing the strange Election Day outcome, but that she was grateful we were all there together.
Yes, I thought, even though everything seems different now, post-Election Day, we still have this day every year, with its funny favorite foods and behaviors that probably seem bizarre to others.
That’s why I like these silly Pilgrim candles. I'll go back to the drug store I found them in last year, sitting on the half-price table after the holiday. If I can't find them there, I find them online. I'll store them until next year. Just a little white, waxy hope for the future.