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Thankful for family and perfect pie

Pumpkin Black Walnut Pie


Terry is a well-known regional columnist who lives in Chamberlain, S.D.

I have read hundreds of quotes about Thanksgiving, but I’ve never seen one that tells how to remain thankful when the kitchen sink backs up during cleanup after the big meal.

A multitude of quotes and comments talk about being thankful. Well, of course. That’s what the holiday is all about. Consider this thought from Amy Lee Mercree: “Thanksgiving is a joyous invitation to shower the world with love and gratitude.’’ It is that, all right.

Terry Woster

Terry Woster

Some of my favorite Thanksgiving quotes are funny. Late-night talk show host Johnny Carson is said to have observed: “Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.’’

There is some of that, too, sometimes. Carson isn’t the only one who has talked about tiring of the holiday visitors. Melanie White is credited with saying, “Thanksgiving is a time to count your blessings, one by one, as each relative goes home.’’

In my family, as in many other families, I suppose, Thanksgiving was a mixture of togetherness, of touching moments and sentimental conversation between bites of our mom’s major-holiday meal, and of too much of brothers and sisters too close together for too long. I mean, I love my siblings, I really do. But when I was young, they got on my nerves if we spent too much time with each other. As an older guy, I recognize that I must have gotten on their nerves, too. That’s part of being a family, I suppose, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be reminded of that.

We really, truly got on each other’s nerves when the kitchen sink clogged. It always seemed to happen after the meal, while we were clearing the table, scraping the plates and pans, and trying to wash and dry the dishes quickly enough to give them a break before we started in on left-overs.

The sink I remember was in our Chamberlain house. We moved there for the school years when I started third grade, back in 1952. We owned the place until my mom moved to an assisted living center in Sioux Falls after a heart attack – 1999, I think it was. In all that time, I remember the sink always backing up at Thanksgiving. Once, maybe twice, at Christmas, but always at Thanksgiving.

Sometimes, we could clear the pipe with a plunger, usually after sloshing a lot of water across the counter and onto the floor. While someone plunged, others would stand around and offer suggestions. The suggestions ratcheted the tension in the small kitchen enormously. Those moments would not have been good times for quote collectors to ask us for our most touching comments on the meaning of the holiday.

Once or twice, we simply could not get things flowing again and had to call in an expert. On Thanksgiving. Just as the Lions were about to kick off to, well, somebody. We would retire to the living room to wait, glaring at each other to make it clear we weren’t the one who had plugged the pipes. That wouldn’t have been the best time to ask us for inspirational Thanksgiving quotes, either.

You know what I always suspected caused the sink to plug? Our mom’s pie. She is gone now, so I can speak freely. See, my mom never believed she was a particularly good cook. She was, of course. Back on the farm, all by herself, she could whip up three huge meals a day, along with afternoon sandwiches and cookies, day after day. She could cook so much food that even a custom combining crew couldn’t finish it. But she thought she was mediocre around the kitchen.

She was vain about just one culinary thing. She could make pies like nobody’s business. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water. But she had this quirk. If she baked a pie and didn’t think it was perfect, she’d dump it down the sink and start over. She would do that on any old day of the week. Imagine how much more likely she would have been to toss away a Thanksgiving pie that didn’t meet her standards. I’m pretty sure that even before we started clearing the table, at least one pie had found its way into the drain.

Any pie that reached the table was worth a clogged sink once a year. And deep down, I was always thankful to be with the family.

 Terry is a well-known regional columnist who lives in Chamberlain, S.D.

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Terry is a well-known regional columnist who lives in Chamberlain, S.D.

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