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  • Writer's pictureS.E. Reed

The Pumpkin Spice Phenomena

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Thanksgiving is the one day a year when Mother can legally wrangle her family into the elegantly tablescaped formal dining room and force them to eat the food she has lovingly prepared for eight-hours. She knows the gravy will be criticized, because it’s homemade with bits of shredded meat from the turkey neck she left boiling in a little copper pan on the back burner with rosemary and pepper; its fragrant herbed fumes better than any scented Glade candle. And it’s true that at least two of her children will refuse to eat anything other than the flash-frozen summer sweet corn, cooked tender in a full stick of salted-butter.

Mother remains calm, with the help of her steamy 6 a.m. Bailey’s infused coffee in her favorite Disney character mug-- because Thanksgiving is a holiday and no one else is awake yet to interfere with her heavy-handed pour. She carefully chops lemons and carrots to stuff inside the young-and-juicy Butterball that spent three days thawing out in the fridge per the manufacturer's directions, before she placed it in a sink full of warm water last night before bed.

There are two bags of golden salty Lays potato chips hidden in the cupboard above the refrigerator where her teenagers don’t look, because all that’s usually up there are cookbooks and old glass candy dishes that used to go out at the holidays, carefully filled with Kisses. But the greedy hands of her brood means she doles out treats in a more manageable fashion these days, using her silver Sharpie to identify the rightful owner of the treat.

The chips are to be served with her famous day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches. A real French style croissant stuffed with Philadelphia cream cheese, cranberries, sprouts and leftover turkey, which is why there’s such a big bird roasting on the bottom oven rack-- more than enough for six or eight or ten people, depending on who arrives to celebrate. Depth of snow will determine if Grandma and Grandpa stop to pick up Great-Uncle Stanis from the nursing home on their way. And last night's tab at the honkey-tonk bar is the indicator if Aunt Megs shows up in time to eat dinner or just desert.

The smell of Jimmy Dean sausage frying, a key ingredient for the cornbread stuffing, wakes up the family; littlest sister comes downstairs with wild hair and wrinkled pajamas in a foul mood. If I can’t eat it for breakfast, why is it cooking at breakfast time? And what are those disgusting things on the cookie sheet? And why are you cutting X’s on the top of them-- okay it looks satisfying, can I use that knife and help?

No, the children get hot cocoa with spray Redi-Whip and freshly baked cinnamon rolls and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the living room. And suddenly everyone is happy again, regardless of the missing sausage on their fall themed paper plates purchased from the giant display at the Hy-Vee. Mother goes back to scoring and roasting chestnuts for the stuffing, fingers crossed none explode like they did last year when she was distracted and forgot to pull them out in time.

The potatoes get a scrub in the sink to remove the last few specks of Idaho dirt before being peeled, quartered and placed in a pot of boiling water. The cheers from the family room are for America’s team, not the epic meal nearing completion. Mother has an internal timer, set perfectly to guarantee the holiday feast is ready to serve while everything is piping hot, when the fourth quarter whistle blows game over.

She doesn’t need her family to give thanks to her during the blessing, she prefers they be thankful for the other abundances in their lives; like health and wellness, good friends and a loving family. The room is expectedly rowdy and there’s always a glass of Martinelli’s sparkling cider spilled when they pass the bottle round the table attempting careful dispensing into crystal goblets. Teenage sister pretends not to be interested, picking at her plate and TikToking her lame family’s traditions-- secretly knowing her friends are envious of her.

When the dishes are cleaned and a fresh pot of coffee has been brewed, the adults retire to the sanctum of the den, but Aunt Meg rushes in from the storm-- all apologies with a tub of rich vanilla bean Ben & Jerry’s, begging and pleading for a wedge of pumpkin pie. Mother will forgive the disturbance of peace and call everyone to the kitchen. Some like it plain, some like it with whip cream, some like it cold and some like it warmed in the microwave. No matter how it's served, the one thing she’s most proud of, is her Libby’s pumpkin pie. The aromatic fragrance of cinnamon and nutmeg paired with a velvety smooth texture make her pie the grand finale of a meal they’d all remember year round.

When her favorite coffee shop posts a sign that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back on the menu, she will smile and pull into the drive-thru. The first sip takes her back to last Thanksgiving and all those memorable ones that came before. It’s her cue to start checking the local ads for buy-one-get-one-free on whole Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Maybe this year she’ll put the candy dishes back out, the kids are a year older after all. Aunt Meg called last night to announce she has a new boyfriend and is anxious to share her family traditions, so another place setting will need to be assembled. Mother takes another sip of her seasonal drink and closes her eyes, thankful for her memories.

These moments are fleeting--

Pumpkin Spice reminds her in a way that doesn’t hurt so much.


S.E. Reed

Let me know what you think on Twitter @writingwithreed

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