Thankful for Mashed Potatoes and More
by M.L. Faunce
Back during the Vietnam War, my brother served at a winter survival training camp perched on the side of Mt. Fuji, Japan, a U.S. Marine outpost out of firing range but not without serious duty. In his absence at Thanksgiving, my family thanked God for our blessings. I made a cassette tape of our family gathering to send to my brother; from my Dad, the eldest, to the youngest niece and nephew, we all sent our personal messages to my far-flung brother.
As we sat down to dinner, the tape rolled on, unbeknownst to us.
You think turkey is the starring role at this traditional feast? Or that stuffing is the stuff of our holiday dreams? The discourse on the mashed potatoes that continued during the meal became legend in our family. Once we tried to count how many times the words mashed potatoes were uttered, but we lost track in our laughter. Everyone had a personal take on the subject, and all repeating their words like rounds of a song. When one compliment faded in the background, another took up the resounding cord from the other end of the table. How creamy, how buttery: The chatter flowed on as forks tinkled on the plates like the music from the tickling of ivories on a piano. Nothing could still the tongue after tasting those potatoes.
On the tape, forever was captured the essence of the intimacy of a family meal made all at once special and mundane by the simple shared comfort of mashed potatoes. My brother still has that tape of the Thanksgiving when he was far away from family but with us in spirit.
When I moved to Churchton in 1991, having just lost my mother, I invited family and friends from far and wide for a Thanksgiving by the Bay. What better comfort, I thought, than to share the bounty of this quiet holiday with a walk to see tundra swans, to warm ourselves with oyster stew and, as the sun set, to eat and drink and share our considerable blessings.
The dinner table grew exponentially with the addition of card table after card table as invited and drop-in guests arrived. My Uncle George got tipsy and needed a handler; our two dachshunds got into a food fight under the table; my brother Pat’s blessing took on a life all its own; the mashed potatoes grew cold, but no less appreciated and I christened my new home and another era.
This is the first Thanksgiving since then that I will spend at home in Churchton. My older siblings have gone to heaven, and now their children will bring their children for Thanksgiving by the Bay. A nephew and his wife from California, and a Marine Corps family from Hawaii with young ones will walk and toddle to see tundra swans. My nephew John will follow in his father’s footsteps and offer the blessing. Mashed potatoes will be on the menu. The rest as yet unwritten, a story for yet another time.
M.L. Faunce is an award-winning Bay Weekly writer and columnist.