During all the times that I can remember from the time I was born until I left home, my mother always prepared a delicious dinner (the noon meal) for Thanksgiving Day. The food for the occasion was dependent upon our family's financial circumstances, but usually included a roasted chicken, Mama's wonderful cornbread dressing, home-grown green beans with bacon (no ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole back in those days), candied carrots, ambrosia (fresh oranges and coconut), yeast rolls made from scratch, cranberry-orange relish, and a pie or two -- a mincemeat pie (Mama and I especially liked mincemeat) and a pumpkin pie. It was a meal to which we all looked forward, mostly for the pie, which we did not have very often.
However, the Thanksgiving Dinner of which I have the strongest memories bore no resemblance whatsoever to the feast described above. Herein lies the tale.
I was 15, a sophomore at Central High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My best friend was a classmate named Betty J. We spent much time together at school and visited each other's homes regularly on weekends.
In mid-November, Mrs. J. invited me to go on a picnic on Thanksgiving Day (weather permitting) with their family - Mrs. J., Betty, and Betty’s cute brother, Dan. Their destination was the foothills of the Sandia Mountains north of Albuquerque close to a (still) small town of Bernalillo (burn-a-lee’-yo). We would leave around 10:30 in the morning, drive to the Bernalillo area, find a suitable picnic place, have our lunch and return home early in the afternoon. Mama wasn’t too enthused about my missing Thanksgiving dinner with the family, but after I begged and pleaded, she gave me permission to go with my friend. I was ecstatic!
The day dawned bright, clear and very crisp, as a November morning in New Mexico should be. The trip took only about 30 minutes and we were soon unloading the picnic basket and the blanket/tablecloth onto a hillside that was surrounded by piñon pines. The air was filled with the scent of pines, dry earth and rocks. (Do you know that rocks have their own smell -- especially in large quantities? At least, I think they do.) I was excited by the prospect of being able to pick piñones (peen-yo’-nes), otherwise known as pine nuts. Pine nuts, which are very, very tiny, are most often roasted, which causes their shells to become brittle and easy to crack, revealing the sweet, sort of rosin-tasting nut within. However, raw piñones also are delicious, even if getting through their shells is a bit more difficult (one does it with one’s teeth.) Not everyone likes pine nuts, but I really, really like them, raw or roasted.
But, I digress.
After we had explored for a while, and had picked a double-handful of piñones, Betty’s mother called us to lunch. I had no idea what she had brought in the picnic basket, but I soon learned. Our Thanksgiving meal consisted of a jar of sweet pickles, a can of Vienna Sausages, and a large can of pork and beans. 1-2-3. The end.
The pickles and sausages we could eat with our fingers (napkins were provided), but Betty’s mother had brought no plates or bowls and, as it turned out, only one (1) spoon for the beans. I well remember that we passed the can of beans from one person to another, sharing not only the can of beans, but a spoon, as well.
When I got back home, I’m sure I made a bee-line for whatever was left over from my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. As you might expect, I have no recollection of what my mother had prepared, but I will never forget eating cold pork and beans with a shared spoon on Thanksgiving Day.
I leave you with these words from W.E.B. DuBois
"Give us thankful hearts...
in this the season of Thy Thanksgiving.
May we be thankful for health and strength,
for sun and rain and peace.
Let us seize the day and the opportunity
and strive for that greatness of spirit
that measures life not by its disappointments
but by its possibilities,
and let us ever remember that true gratitude
and appreciation shows itself neither
in independence nor satisfaction
but passes the gift joyfully on
in larger and better form."
Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving Day -- even if it's pork and beans.