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Looking out my Backdoor: Day by day by grateful day


Last updated 10/15/2020 at 8:32am

On Canadian Thanksgiving Day, Kathy wrote with questions about our U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Basic “how does that work?” questions.

I’d been in the kitchen preparing a more-or-less traditional Thanksgiving Dinner in sympathy with and support of our northern neighbor’s celebration. In the past many years, I have managed to celebrate two annual Thanksgiving Days, with friends in Vancouver, in Victoria and in northeastern reaches of Saskatchewan.

While chopping ingredients for stuffing is more fun, I took time out of food prep for a short class in Civics 101. At the end of Kathy’s questions, she wrote, “We do not understand how your government works.” At the end of my 101 basic lesson, I wrote, “Neither do we, Kathy. Neither do we.”

Back in the kitchen I laid three chunks of chicken atop a bed of savory stuffing, flanked them with carrots, a small sweet potato, split, and topped the chicken with slices of apple, all in one baking dish. I’m cooking a meal for one person, remember. I slid the clay casuela into the oven to slowly bake the feast, a grand meal plus a couple days of leftovers.

Kath went on to say that at their own Thanksgiving meal, which they had eaten a day early, they spoke much about their father, whom she described as having one of “the rudest and most inappropriate flapping mouths on the planet. Why did we talk about him?”

That’s what we do at Thanksgiving, isn’t it? We remember. The good. And the cringe-worthy.

My worst Thanksgiving memory was a huge dinner with my stepmother’s family; my daughter then a 2-year-toddler. The only person who didn’t shun me that day was my dad and my gay stepbrother.

My dad took me aside to tell me my tree had fallen. I walked into the woods along the Milk River to show my daughter “my tree,” an aged cottonwood, whose branches had sheltered me through many teen-age storms of angst. She’d finally toppled over while reaching her branches ever closer toward the water.

My favorite Thanksgiving Day was any Thanksgiving with family and friends following that one day of disappointment. My daughter-in-law once told me she used to hold her breath waiting for me to announce the time to share our thoughts of gratitude, a family tradition I had instituted, a tradition which elicited many groans but good stories. She felt shy about such open and sometimes mushy statements. Well, Shea, neither did I grow up with a tradition of thankfulness.

Meal prep and memories were interrupted when Leo heaved two bags of produce onto my patio table. Leo shops for me. I give him my grocery list and cloth bags and wait to see what wondrous provisions he brings. Today Leo returned with the loveliest little aubergine and half a papaya as well as everything else on my list.

I miss shopping for myself. Our agreement is that if an item I listed doesn’t look good that day, Leo skips it. When he sees something wonderful that isn’t listed, he brings it to me.

With no impulse buys, seldom do I end up with more than I can use simply because the oranges smelled so good or the squashes tripped me up on my way out the door. If I forget something I want, well, that item tops off the next list.

Today I feel rich. My refrigerator is full of vegetables. Bowls on my island counter overflow with fruit. Smells of the chicken and dressing waft from oven to my nose, taunting me that it soon will be ready to eat.

Eager to share a couple of winter gardening ideas with Leo, I headed out to the back patio to corner him where he held an open hose over the patch of kalanchoe. A dragonfly, pure Crayola purple, swooped back and forth through the stream of water, for a drink, for a bath. I have never ever, ever, ever seen a purple, alive, vital, purple, dragonfly. What a fine gift.

Dinner met my expectations. I probably gained forty-‘leven kilos. I forgot to make dessert. But all is not lost. Ice cream was the last item on my grocery list.

Next month, when Turkey Day rolls around, I think I’ll have a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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