A Fan of Tryptophan – No Pun Intended

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Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

I love Thanksgiving! When I was a young wife and mother, Bill’s mom, the most extraordinary cook in the State of Mississippi, always did the cooking. Always! I was only expected to help my sister-in-law with the washing up. Took hours. But even that part was fun, and I did learn a great deal just from watching his mom.
This was a good thing, because I don’t remember too many holiday meals cooked by my own mother. Bless her heart, she was usually on the road; no time or place to cook for the family that was also in transit.
Seems like the Army tries to reassign and move the families of service personnel during school breaks, i.e. Holidays. Because of my dad’s MOS, we were transferred every year, sometimes twice. My mother was an excellent cook—when she had a kitchen, and she could put an apartment or house together in the twinkling of an eye. By the time the movers pulled out of the drive, the beds were made, the dishes were in the cabinets, and she was fluffing the pillows on the sofa. I learned a lot from watching her, and since Bill and I moved ten or twelve times during our 55 years of marriage, the art of creating a cozy home in just hours came in mighty handy.
Just like learning to create a comfortable home, the art of putting an attractive and delicious holiday meal for a dozen or more people on the table takes years of practice. I owe thanks to many women and men: to my grandpa who taught me the secret of great cornbread, and my father-in-law who showed me the importance of keeping my fingers off the grater when preparing fresh coconut for ambrosia (a beautiful salad made with oranges, cherries, nuts, coconut, and custard…yum). My aunts handed down recipes for everything wonderful, including the gift of hospitality. No matter how good the cooking, without a warm and inviting atmosphere, pretty dishes, real cloth napkins, a centerpiece and a conversation starter or two, no dinner party will succeed.
This year I did not have to use any of my practiced cooking skills as we happily drove the four and a half hours to North Mississippi where our niece and nephew, and our great nieces, all terrific cooks, prepared the sumptuous banquet for Thursday dinner.
So, guess what? The time spent traveling was half the time it would have taken me to bake a bird, stir up and cook my cornbread dressing and prepare the ten additional casseroles that comprise a truly Southern Thanksgiving Dinner. Not to mention the time it would have taken to try and bake a Caramel Cake (never have learned the art of caramel icing) or whip up a crisp-on-the-top, but candy-like in the middle, pecan pie! So, good trade-off for moi! Not to mention the fact that the gas both ways was far less expensive than my holiday Publix bill was last year.
My daughter and son-in-law arrived Tuesday night from Hilton Head and, on Wednesday, chauffeured us like royalty. In the backseat, I enjoyed my new December issues of Southern Living and Country Home magazines, drank coffee from my big vacuum mug while nibbling on a paper sack full of goodies. Now if that’s not living the “Life of Riley” I just don’t know what is.
Do any of you dear readers even remember who Riley was? Or why I would care to live his life? Probably not. Just another example of how out-of-date my allusions, puns, (FYI, also called paronomasia), and metaphors are to many of my audience and sadly, to my family. They often humor me, rarely ask questions (which I would SO welcome), or just ignore what I had hoped would add a spark of wit and wisdom. I know my history, but no one really seems to care how the Pilgrims got here or why.
And books! I know books!  I probably exaggerate, but sometimes I really do feel left out of conversations which mostly include discussions of the latest movies and TV shows, and which they all acknowledge that I “am far too sensitive to watch.” I’m going to take this as a compliment and move on!
So, anyway. Last Thursday, all over America, people were rubbing their tummies, stifling big yawns and struggling to stay awake after having over-indulged in traditional banquets of turkey, mashed potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce and cornbread dressing with giblet gravy. Well, maybe in some parts of the country their feasts included oyster stuffing, tofu, or parsnips, but in the South there is an unwritten rule that Thanksgiving “dinner” (served anytime from noon til 3 p.m.) must follow an age-old menu carved in stone. You can expect deviled eggs, sweet potato soufflé topped with pecans, green bean casserole and fruit salad to be on every table south of the Mason Dixon Line. And the dessert buffet better have five different kinds of pies including pecan (pronounced pah-kon), pumpkin, and a chocolate cream pie with a mile-high merengue on it.
After dessert, exciting conversation is not really what folks are looking forward to. Not even if the conversation is full of clever puns and allusions like mine. Nope, a nap is the very next thing on most minds.
You do know that there is a built-in nap accelerator in turkey and taters, right? Packed with high-starch carbohydrates and tryptophan, they make most of us very sleepy. But . . . . my nieces took off for the Tupelo mall where Black Friday started at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Yawn. I understand they got home about 2 a.m. Ah, to be young again.
Nah. I’ll just go for the nap.

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