We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflections on Thanksgiving - A Sisters' Writing Trilogy

The Memory Keepers by Michelle, Linda, and Juliette

Maddie and I posing with the fruits of our labors on Thanksgiving Day 2008.
To Be Thankful Is To Unify
by Michelle

   If I look at my life as a series of chapters instead of one continuous journey, this current chapter started on December 1, 2008, the day I parted ways with my former employer at the beginning of a recession that everyone can surely agree is the worst since the Great Depression. In the hi-tech industry, it is not uncommon to see huge ups and downs on the prosperity scale, so I looked at my new found liberty as hitting an unfortunate pothole while traveling on the twisting, curving, sometimes up, sometimes down, road of life.
   I decided to relax and enjoy the holidays—take one day at a time. Then as a bonus, Linda announced that she and the oldest of her twin sons, Jordan would arrive for a visit in early January. Excited, I decided, without the least amount of guilt, to postpone looking for a new position until February. We had wonderful days in Tucson before heading to Bisbee to visit Juliette and our nieces, nephew, his girlfriend and their infant son. While we were all together, we were able to talk via webcam to Jordan’s twin, Joshua a Green Beret serving in Afghanistan who was in the middle of making preparations to return home as his tour of duty came to a close.
   After Linda and Jordan returned to California, I felt, somewhat dauntingly, that I had my “whole life in front of me.” I was feeling a little lost. I was left to consider a half-remodeled house, Christmas decorations to put away, and a career to get back on track. Then the late night call came, the dreaded call. My intuition signaled me before I even picked-up the phone that something terrible had happened. The sound of Linda’s strangled voice on the line was the only thing I needed to confirm that the unimaginable had happened—Joshua was dead.
   I was on a plane soon thereafter and spent the next month with Linda helping however I could. Juliette was not in a position to leave Bisbee until the weekend of the funeral although in the meantime she was a wonder trafficking communications on e-mail, working Facebook, MySpace and being a comfort over the phone. The Universe moves in mysterious ways. If I had been employed, I would not have been able to spend the time with Linda before, during, and after the funeral or the subsequent year my daughter and I lived with her in California.

The Pusch Ridge Mountains glow pink from the setting sun.
Thanksgiving Day 2006.
   My Dad’s brother also passed away in January and my mother-in-law in April. Many more have followed in the lives of our close friends and co-workers. I cannot remember a similar time in my life marked by so much death and the echoing ripple of fear created by the global financial crisis. One of the most interesting aspects to me of experiencing grief over the past two years is that managing "other people's" feelings is next to impossible. The only thing you can control is yourself. Empathy and patience are the only two things that got me through. That, and trying to keep a sense of humor amid the chaos.   
   I remember one particularly tense evening, while waiting for Josh’s body to arrive home in Solvang, California, that Linda and I retired early to extract ourselves from the crowd. We were sharing a bedroom at Linda’s ex-husband’s house. As we lay in the queen size bed reviewing the events of another grief-laden day, with tears trickling down into our ears, something struck me as particularly ironic, and as a byproduct, rather humorous. I could not suppress the uprising in my chest and I explained, with some trepidation, (acknowledging our solemn situation) why I had begun to chuckle, as I am wont to do at inappropriate times. My laughter was contagious and Linda and I got to giggling and we couldn't stop. It was the worst of times and yet there we were, literally under the covers, laughing ourselves silly, hoping not to be heard. At that particular moment, laughter was the best medicine, and was exactly what we needed to make it through one more evening, until the next tear drops fell, waiting for the next wave of grief to hit us like a tsunami.
   What I remember in particular from those two weeks in Solvang was how everyone handled grief differently—some well, some not so well. Sorrow was offset by the gentle kindnesses of friends, family and in particular strangers, who lined up on roads waving American flags and covering their hearts or saluting, as we passed in two separate motorcades. We appreciated friends who showed up on the doorstep with casseroles, soups, tri-tip and ranch beans, trays of cold cuts, desserts, bottles of alcohol, plants and flowers. They would linger and help shoulder the burden, spending time with us and telling us their stories of Joshua. I discovered on a broader scale that facing death brings out the worst and the best traits in humans, all based upon his or her individual ability to deal with the inevitable—not one of us is getting out of here alive.

My daughter and I on Thanksgiving day 2007.
  Honestly, I just feel like I'm coming out of the funk that I've been in during this chapter of my life. There have been a lot of wonderful things that have happened during that time, and a lot of grief and sadness too that have weighed me down. One of the things that got me through was implementing a routine of gratefulness. Every day I recount what I'm grateful for, even it is something small and seemingly insignificant. The gratefulness ritual kept me grounded (and maybe in particular terms, while I was not focusing on the negatives, the underlying theme was that things could have been much, much worse and I was actively acknowledging the positives at work in my life.)
    I've mostly weathered the storm, and am hopefully emerging a little wiser, if not a little battered, but certainly grateful for new opportunities, such as my new position as a business development manager with a great company. I am also grateful for everything I have been able to hold on to, such as my house and the love of my family and dear friends. The losses are in my past; not to be forgotten, but not to be dwelled upon either. This chapter is not the headline in my life any longer and as this year draws to a close, so will this chapter conclude. I am looking forward to the year ahead and the opportunity to travel new roads.
   If you have a lot on your plate, like most of us do, the holidays will undoubtedly add another layer of stress to your already busy routine. Keep your sights on the horizon and do your best to manage your thoughts and reactions. Endeavor to be the center in the eye of the storm. Engage in activities that you really enjoy. This time of year, one of my favorite past times is baking with my daughter. Remember that each day is a gift. To be thankful is to unify. Be strong, be gracious, be loving, be grateful. That's my daily mantra—hopefully, it might be some help to you, as it has been to me. May the blessings of this holiday season be upon you and yours. Happy Thanksgiving!

A beautiful maple tree in Linda's yard on Thanksgiving day 2009.
The More You Share, The More You Have
by Linda

   As this Thanksgiving approaches I have had time to think about and remember all of the Thanksgivings that have gone before, as once again I am facing a Thanksgiving without my blood family living near. Sadly for me, my sister Michelle and my niece Maddie moved back to Tucson this past July after a year spent with me in California, attempting to relocate from Arizona to California. Given the economy, it was no surprise that their house in Tucson did not sell. Sealing the deal, a wonderful new Charter School with a strong science curriculum opened this past August near their home in Tucson, which is a great boon for science-minded Maddie. They packed up the Toyota 4Runner once more, after twelve months spent in Sonoma County, and headed for the desert, leaving me feeling more than a little alone and sorry for myself. 
   My custom on Thanksgiving Day, in the past few years after closing the store's doors promptly at two o'clock, has been to join my adopted family, Monica and Clarke. Over the past three Thanksgivings that I have spent with them, their family has grown from two to three. On Thanksgiving night of my first Thanksgiving at their home, Monica finally announced her "secret" to her family. I was one of the few that knew that she was expecting a baby in the Spring. Tears of joy accompanied the pumpkin pie that night as she proudly exposed her baby bump to her very elated Mom and Dad.
   This past year Monica and Clarke with help from family and an 18 month-old adorable tow-headed boy named Max, cooked dinner for 30 assorted family members and friends, including Michelle and her husband, Jay, and Maddie (who, by the way, is featured often in our posts serving as the model for tasting the recipes, much to her chagrin).
   I have friends who aren't fond of the Thanksgiving holiday, considering that it has been soft-sold to us as a day when the Pilgrims and Native Americans joined in a harvest celebration. This version clearly omits the years of genocide and atrocities perpetrated by colonials in the early years of their settlements, and then later by their progeny in the decades to follow with the advancement of settlers into the West.
   For me, the annual observance of Thanksgiving has become a day to remember the sacrifices and suffering of the many, that have led to this present Thanksgiving, and above all to be grateful for family, adopted family, friends and the many others who come in and out of our lives and share their generosity, love and caring with us. Thanks-giving has become a day for me to acknowledge and express gratitude for the abundance of love and material wealth that is present in my life, even if, sadly my Mom, Dad, sisters, son, nieces and nephews live so far away.

Carving the Thai Turkey at Clarke and Monica's.
Thanksgiving 2009
   I was reminded of a simple homily recently by my friend Silvia (see Silvia's black beans) as she proffered to a reluctant yet very hungry me, a steaming bowl of bean, cheese and pasilla chile tamales when I came into work the other day. According to Silvia, her friend who made them does not have much work, and Silvia and her friends help support this friend's family by buying tamales from time to time. I hesitated before accepting Silvia's offer, knowing that she had purchased them for her husband and two sons.
   Silvia who is intuitive as well as empathetic seemed to read my mind. "Go ahead, eat, eat!" she said touching my arm by way of a gentle caress. "You know, Linda (I love the way she pronounces my name, "Leenda" as is proper in Spanish), as my mother always says—the more you share, the more you have." The truth of this simple statement made me feel warm inside. As I partook of the delicious tamales that I dabbed into a very spicy salsa, I resolved inwardly once more, to keep on "paying it forward" as we say. For it is so very true—the more you share, the more you have.
   Happy Thanksgiving to all, far and near, with much love sent to you and yours from this Salvation Sister.

Sarah Josepha Hale
Portrait Painted by James Reid Lambdin
A Thanksgiving Primer
by Juliette

“Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.” ~ Sarah Hale

   Why am I starting this Thanksgiving blog with a nursery rhyme? It started with writer's block, as usually happens when I am facing some sort of deadline on almost any type of project—cooking, art, writing, housework, etc. It doesn't seem to matter what the task at hand is— if I have to do it, it suddenly becomes the thing I can't or don't want to do. Something about a "deadline" sparks my contrary nature... think about it "DEAD-line". The word itself has such negative connotations!
   I spent much time thinking about the many things I have to be thankful for: The health and love of my family, the start of a new business venture, our wonderful old ramshackle bungalow (which does not leak!), tried and true friends, ample food in the pantry, a beautiful town to live in, and computers. Yes, computers, and the internet! I really can't imagine how I would get by day to day without the aid of my trusty lap-top!  
   The world is at my fingertips and anything I might wish to learn about can be found on Google with a few key strokes. Lucky for you dear reader, are the wonders of word processing, as my handwriting is mostly intelligible (ask any cook I have ever worked with)! Ever had a plate thrown at your head because someone could not decipher your penmanship? I have! Word processing rocks, and when computers made their way into restaurant kitchens in the 1980's they might very well have saved me from a concussion or an aggravated assault charge!    

A letter from Sarah Hale to President Lincoln.

   Still being completely blocked, I decided to Google "Thanksgiving" to see if there was something new I could discover about a holiday I have been participating in for a half a century. The first link I chose was Wikipedia. I scrolled through the first part on the pilgrims, as I had learned plenty of that in school, I dug deeper. I came across this proclamation from Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  I was struck by how his words are still completely relevant today:

   "The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."


   I also saw that Lincoln's proclamation was prompted by a series of letters and editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale. Sarah who? I decided to check her out. Sarah Hale was the first editor of the first woman's magazine in America: Godey's Lady's Book. She also happens to be the woman who penned Mary had a Little Lamb. We all know this nursery rhyme, but do we know that this same woman launched a 17 year campaign to have the fourth Thursday in November to be officially recognized as Thanksgiving? Seventeen years folks - without the aid of word processing, typewriters, or even carbon paper - she wrote literally thousands of letters to five different Presidents, and every other local, state, and national politician she could think of with her polite yet persistent requests.
   She published editorials in Godey's Lady's Book asking for a national day of Thanksgiving, along with recipes for dishes the feast/celebration should include, which are still cooked in kitchens across America today. What makes Sarah's story particularly exceptional is that all of this happened after she was widowed while pregnant with her fifth child at the age of 34 and left penniless.
   With our nation fractured by the horrors of The Civil War, Abraham Lincoln read yet another one of Sarah's letters and decided to act on it. Before the inclusion of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Independence Day and Washington's Birthday. Sarah made a great many other contributions to our country:
 • Sarah Hale was the first to urge equal education for American girls. She was the first to start day nurseries for working women, and also the first to suggest public playgrounds.
• Hale authored two dozen books and hundreds of poems.
• She raised the $30,000 (in 1840 that was a lot of $$$) in Boston for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument.
• Hale advocated for the preservation of George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation, as a symbol of patriotism that both the Northern and Southern United States could all support.
• As Editor at Godey's Lady's Book, Hale made a major contribution to American literature by choosing to publish original, American manuscripts.

    I recently became a fan of Howard Zinn after watching the documentary You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. He practiced "passive resistance" and it struck me that Sarah Hale had practiced "passive insistence". And it worked.

Devin with his Aunt Avalon.
   Sarah retired with these words to her readers in the December 1877 issue, also still relevant today:

   "And now, having reached my ninetieth year, I must bid farewell to my countrywomen, with the hope that this work of half a century may be blessed to the furtherance of their happiness and usefulness in their Divinely-appointed sphere. New avenues for higher culture and for good works are opening before them, which fifty years ago were unknown. That they may improve these opportunities, and be faithful to their higher vocation, is my heartfelt prayer."

   As I sit down this Thursday to a traditional Thanksgiving feast, I will be thanking Sarah for recognizing the value of setting aside at least one day each year to express our gratitude, and share our blessings with family and friends.

For more on Sarah Josepha Hale follow these links:

Thanksgiving at Juliette's house.


  1. What a sass of sisters! These three posts made me sniffle, made me laugh and made my mouth water. You three write so intelligently and know your grammar, (I am a spelling and grammar Nazi)and have the true art of putting..oops, almost said pen to paper..fingers to keyboard. I am never disappointed in what any of you offer and check in daily to see if anything is new. I wish I had hung out with Juliette more and will remedy that if I ever move back to Bisbee. Bake on, Sister! Thanks for one of the best blogs ever. Michelle, when I go visit my son, Drew, in Tucson, I will try to see you, too. A glass of wine? He is now the Director of Operations of all the PPTEC schools in AZ. A cool kid; just ask Juliette. I would love to sit at one of your tables some day! Ciao, adios, auf wiedersehen.

  2. Dear Zoe,
    Thanks so much for being our #1 fan and reading faithfully. We very much appreciate your enthusiasm, I have found myself imagining you as an exotic expat living a romantic and tropical existence south of the border. In my imagination you wear flowers in your braided hair, have a pet monkey a la Frida Kahlo, and you steam tamales in banana leaves. I get to Tucson every so often. If one day one of our trips should coincide, I would love to buy you a drink! Linda

  3. Gosh Linda, no pet monkey but five monkey-like dogs and my hair is ALMOST long enough to braid. Exotic? Only in my erotic dreams, but cool, funny, intelligent and loyal...yup. I DO steam tamales in banana skins so two out of three ain't bad and we DID just sell an original Diego Rivera at Christie's auction in NYC on the 18th,so we are close to Frida in that respect. It was given to John's great uncle by Rivera himself. We got diddly squat for it, though. Nevertheless, I love being your #1 fan and I suck at risotto, so let me do YOUR recipe. We used to go to Italy every year, so risotto was where it was at. No, we have NO money and aren't rich..no where near, but enjoying where we are.

  4. Hi Zoe... I'm always up for a glass of wine! And, the more friends around my dining room table, the better. Definitely let me know the next time you are passing through the Old Pueblo!

  5. We are coming up on Dec. 28 and will be hanging around until approx Jan. 3. Gonna hit the thrift stores like crazy as Mexico hasn't many. People here don't THROW stuff away like we do. '-) What is your phone number, Michelle..might just have that glass of wine witcha. zoesterone@gmail.com

  6. Hi ladies, your mom shared your blog with me just these week. so i'm checkin in. Congrats and big hugs. Thanksgiving has become our holiday - the Donahue's venture north and the Springs family joins in as well. Just about time to start planning the menu.
    My darling insists on recipe testing -- not me I'm the adventurous cook. The menu has evolved to simply our favorite things. I will look forward to your thoughts on the great turkey feast as it gets closer. -elizabeth aka beth donahue

  7. My heart ached reading this post. I'm so sorry for the loss of your sweet baby, Joshua (they're always our baby). I loved visualizing the two of you giggling in the midst of such deep emotions. It felt so appropriate between two sisters who are so close.

    We are an Air Force family, nearing retirement from the military (almost 22 years of service). We were gratefully stationed at VAFB for 5 years of those years. It was good to be home again for those 5 years. From one military family to another, your family's loss is held with much respect and honor. Thank you.

    Juliette, that was such fascinating information about Thanksgiving and Sarah. Thank you for sharing it. It definitely expands the meaning of Thanksgiving.

  8. Hi Daisy... I feel remiss not logging on previously so say thank you for all your comments that you have left on various posts. I enjoyed reading your insights and feedback. The world feels a little smaller now. Like you, I miss the Central Coast and wish I could return more often than I do. After reading this post again, now more than ever, I continue to be grateful for my sisters and family. Thank you for stopping by and spending time with us. I hope we hear from you again.

  9. Hi! I'm happy to hear back from you. I was worried that you may have stopped blogging. I'm glad to see that's not true. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...