Full Circle: The Pilgrimage
At my house, Thanksgiving was a turkey of a day

I have always been a white man. My father was a dark man. Perhaps I should explain.

Thanksgiving at my house was a festive time. Except for the arguing. You just couldn’t bring my family together at one table and not have the arguing. It was a proud tradition.

“Come on,” my mother said, “eat your potato latkes, it’s Thanksgiving.”

“Thanksgiving? Potato latkes?” I said. “The Pilgrims didn’t have potato latkes on Thanksgiving.”

“Don’t you think there were Jewish Pilgrims?” she said.

“Uh, no.” I shook my head. “They were Pilgrims.”

“Ah, you think you know everything. Now shut up and eat your latkes.”

Then came the most important question of the day, the same question she asked me every year: “What kind of meat do you want? Dark meat? Light meat?”

“I don’t want any dark meat,” I said. “I don’t like dark meat.”

“You can’t have the leg. I’m saving this for your father.”

“I don’t want the leg.”

“I’m telling you the leg is for your father. Don’t touch it!”

“I’m not touching the leg. Don’t tell me not to touch the leg anymore. All I want is white meat and mashed potatoes.”

“Mashed potatoes? Eat some latkes.”

“It’s not Hannukah!”

“So what did they teach you in school about Thanksgiving, Mister Smarty Pants?”

“Well,” I said, “we learned about John Smith and Princess Pocahontas …”

“Ugh, the tramp,” she said.

I shook my head. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Pocahontas was a real tramp.”

“How could Pocahontas be a tramp?”

“Did you see the way she painted her face?”

“Oh, my God.”

I just changed the subject. “So what’s for dessert?” I said.

“Sponge cake,” she said. “Why?”

“Well, I figured you’d make something more traditional.”

“Like what? What’s more traditional than sponge cake?”

“I don’t know. Cornbread. The Indians ate cornbread. Pumpkin pie.”

“Sponge cake is traditional. I’ve been eating it since I was a kid. The Indians ate sponge cake.”

This is where my father, who’d been silently feasting on his drumstick, sat up and took notice.

“Sponge cake?” he said. “Sponge cake is the Ed McMahon of the dessert world. It just sits there. You bring sponge cake to somebody’s house when they die.”

“You keep talking,” my mother said, “and they’re going to be bringing sponge cakes here.”

My father just grumbled. He was a good grumbler.

“This is a fancy cake,” my mother said, starting to slice the sponge cake. “I would bring this cake to Liz Taylor’s house.”

“Like you would be invited to Liz Taylor’s house,” my father said.

“Laugh all you want, but I knew Eddie Fisher back when. He used to come over to Uncle Morris’s house in South Philly.”

A word about Uncle Morris: He wasn’t our uncle. He was a family friend who everybody called “Uncle.” Maybe because the family was very close to him. Probably because he knew Eddie Fisher. Or really liked sponge cake.

My mother, as she often did, ignored my father and turned to me.

“You want apple pie instead?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“There’s a Tastykake pie in the kitchen. You can split it with your father.”

Maury Z. Levy, former editorial director of Philadelphia Magazine, is the retired chairman of Levy Jacobs Marketing in Marlton. Email Maury at maury@levyjacobs.com.

November 2016
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