News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions Better Forgotten

I live alone these days. That means I’m no longer in charge of making Thanksgiving Dinner happen, starting two days ahead to prepare, faithfully producing all the expected dishes. I our house, turkey was a must--not negotiable. Pleas for rib roast or duck met deaf ears. One year I had a revolt because the pumpkin pie was souffl├ęd, instead of flat. These days,  I leave that to my grown children and their families.They’re creating their own customs and traditions.
I marvel, everytime I go to the supermarket how modern innovation has made the whole dinner thing simpler. The other day I came across a Holiday Dinner display, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a complete dinner—all the traditional dishes prepared in oven-ready-to-table casseroles, individually priced, ready to heat and eat. I found the inevitable green bean/mushroom soup casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes, and even cranberry relish in tidy pint servers. There were two kinds of turkey stuffing: cornbread and regular, and even an entirely cooked and ready to serve turkey, vacuumed packed, with giblet gravy in pint containers. Amazing. A trip to the bakery section for pie, and we’re ready to go. Ah, but the feast would never have passed muster in our house.  If I would have tried that, I’d have been sent to my room without supper.
THE RELISH TRAY was missing, a thing that was such a tradition, no  holiday dinner could proceed without it. I don’t know how this got started. I blame it on my mother-in-law. Hopefully this is one of the sillier customs that will not find its way to my children’s tables. 
The thing is, even though nobody ever ate from THE RELISH TRAY because they all hated the stuff on it, it had to be there. Two kinds of olives, pickles, celery sticks, and those pickled crabapples with the stems on, all had to be present and remained untouched throughout the meal. Afterward, during cleanup, I’d carefully sort it out and return all the items to their original containers to be held in the refrigerator until Christmas Dinner, four weeks away. The whole thing would be reassembled and served, except this time, after dinner, everything would go in the garbage and we’d start over next year.
All families have their own "things." I know one family that always serves Ligonberries, although nobody is quite sure what they are, except Swedish.
Sometimes I miss all those little jars in the fridge. At such times, I mix another martini and relax. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’m invited out to dinner.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Where Are All The Heroes?

I attended a ceremony yesterday to honor three Viet Nam War veterans for their service to their country. Fifty years it has taken us to recognize and say ‘thank you’ for what they endured. At their discharge, these three men had simply been handed an envelope, containing at least six medals for service and valor. One veteran recalled that when they got off the plane they were warned to keep a low profile because people might spit on them.
 There was a Purple Heart, which brought a lump to my throat, because I had never seen one and the recipient is profoundly disabled with PTSD and has two service dogs with him at all times. It has only taken fifty years for us to honor their service.
As I sat in that small room in a shopping center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, among some fifty friends who had shown up to honor these men, I listened to their stories and the history of these wars. I’m old enough to remember the Second World War and the ensuing conflicts and, as I listened, I recalled the monstrous acts of brutality perpetrated on our soldiers by the Japanese, the Germans, the Koreans, and the Vietnamese. How could we have forgotten this? The Bataan Death March? The tortures the VC perpetrated? These men haven’t forgotten. The rage is still there.
Why do we react with such outrage to interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo, which are part of the militant Muslim’s culture and expected by them? Indeed, our disgust is, to them, an example of our weakness.
I think it’s time, on this Veteran’s Day, to take another look at what I feel is one of the finest films on the Viet Nam War—Born On The Fourth of July. Tom Cruise earned his acting chops on this one. It is told from the disabled veteran’s point of view and is the story of a young man who bought the whole myth of men proving their courage by fighting for their country, an attitude championed by his parents. He joined up, came home in a wheelchair, and had to deal with the scorn of his fellow countrymen. His scream of rage at the end when he demands to know, “What was it all for?” says it all.
You can rent this film for $2.99 from Amazon Film Library and play it on your Kindle or computer. Let’s give real homage to these veterans of all these thankless wars including Iraq and Afghanistan by remembering. Watch the film.