turkey dinner

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

stuff(ing): part i.

it never fails. every year on this long-weekend, if i happen to be making a turkey dinner, i think of my step-mother, Debbie Clayton. Debbie Hammond when she and my dad were together. maybe, like me, she still keeps the man’s name.

i always think of her on the “holidays” because in our family we always celebrated them in all the ways that white, working-class families celebrate holidays: with a bigger–than-usual meal. usually, with a turkey. and, baking.

i make generalized statements about white, working-class families. they’re based though, on the world many of my memories come from: the extended family i grew up knowing were all white, working-class, nuclear, heterosexual, patriarchal families and they made turkey this long-weekend. they made bigger-than-usual meals on holidays that always included turkey and baking.

i think of how most of my learning to cook came from my step-mom.




writing a list of things to get for dinner on the back of a bill envelope?

that’s her.      her hand-writing was and likely still is, beautiful.      and while my list is always tied to money and bills, my hand-writing is atrocious and the list rarely includes fixings for homemade pies. apple. lemon meringue. i can’t remember the last time i made a homemade pie with homemade crust made how she does it: with TenderFlake lard and egg washed over the raw crust. her hands, beautiful.

remembering to take the turkey out a day in advance so it can thaw?

that’s her.

preparing the turkey and stuffing it?

i recall one of the rare moments of laughter we had between us. i was a little girl and she was teaching me this part for the first time. when it came time to stuff it with the dressing, i said something that made her laugh. i can’t recall what it was i said anymore. what stays with me is the fact that we had this moment over the kitchen sink: i feel the edge of the counter and my body meeting, i see the silver of the one-tub sink, i seek the turkey and the black roasting pan and i see and feel her soft roundness close to me and she’s laughing. the few times i recall saying something that made her laugh are always associated with feeling proud. it made me feel especially glowy when i’d hear her retell it to other adults. it made me happy for her to be happy and that i was able to make her laugh.

i know parts of the story—hers and ours—before and after this one. i was grateful for this memory this morning as i prepared the turkey, hoisting it from the package in the sink into the pan, stuffing it with dressing. she is part of my cooking-big-meals-rituals. she always will be. if nidaanis happens to pick up any of this, i’ll make sure she knows where it comes from. it’s a real good bundle story.

there are other people involved in this story and other women after her. this is about her though. hard-working woman. i can’t even imagine the psychological strength she and other women i know have had to drawn upon to get these meals out in the middle of their lives.

i am not that good a person.

not that kind of good.

i will never be.

it’s strange to write a story about a woman who is still alive, who i have hardly any connection with due to other parts of the story, but who is so present in my life today. she’ll not likely ever read this. if she were to read it, i hope she finds honour in how i see her life and what i learned from her. what she brought to me and a glimpse of what remains.

i’m making turkey today because my girl has to navigate a world that isn’t really anishinaabe and as her world is getting bigger she is navigating it more and more without me. making turkey and making turkey-making stories will help in the navigation. i hope.

there are always turkey day deconstruction stories, too. that’s now though, and not then—way back there. there were no stories then. just the hustle and shuffle of getting a big holiday meal out. the time Chrissy-Ann stuffed the turkey for the first time….

i’m making turkey too because i like the smell of turkey filling up our den. there are no smells of fall here where i am today that i recognize. this is the only one. if i open up a window, i’m sure the clean, saline winds from the Salish Seas will sop them up and away. i’m keeping the windows closed tight. this place is a ceremonial lodge today, filled with turkey smells. mizise-wiiyaas. meat from a bird whose has something glimmering about it. a kind of dagwagi. autumn. home. anishinaabe home. Deb and Dad home. Deb and Dad and the kids home. my people who are white home.

making turkey dinner gives me a process, a ceremony through which to revisit history and feel sadness and anger; pine for something different and also feel grateful for the truth of it all even if its hurts. it allows me to pause and relish the wonderful things. feel such gratitude for the moments of joy and the long spaces of just being a family, whatever that meant for us. feel grateful for Deb. my step-mother. the woman who raised me.

also, tomorrow, is my friend’s mother’s birthday. she doesn’t know it yet but this turkey is her birthday dinner. i’m excited to have my little round wooden table surrounded by three women and a teenage girl today. i wonder what smart, fun things we’ll talk about—where the trails of new things and old will go. because of who we all are, i know it will involve élan. that makes me grin so hard.

jeezus, too, i hope none of my hair gets into this meal. i can’t friggin’ even….