6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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This Month of Sepia – Basted Turkey, Cinnamon, Ginger, and Nutmeg

When October changes to November, when the sky, trees, and hills change to sepia, when I reach out to old friends and gather with family at Thanksgiving, I am reminded of memories that feel like my worn out Marine Corps field jacket that I no longer wear, but still keep hung up in my closet.

Like a snapshot, always there, faded and frayed, yet the details unchanging, certain memories become indelible impressions never to be forgotten.

It is not the event, however, that becomes memorable—the jacket after all is just a jacket—it is our experience with an event, fully and completely, that makes it memorable, that burns an everlasting impression of who we were and what we were doing at that particular moment in time.

Up until the time I was five years old, for example, what few memories I had of where I lived, or how I played, or what friends I may have had are blurred—snippets at best—but nothing that evokes any specific feelings or associations. Years lived in different places blend different details together, but the focus never sharpens enough to create a complete picture.

But I do remember the Thanksgiving when I was five years old. 1959, we were living in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. It was a cold day, gray, and threatening snow. My aunt and grandmother had arrived that morning from Boston in a red and white Nash Metro that my aunt had just bought. Compared to other cars of that time that seemed more like rolling Titans, her car didn’t seem much larger than my Radio Flyer.

Later that afternoon, just after the turkey was pulled from the oven, my stepfather and I went outside for a quick toss with the football.

Even though he had been trying to teach me how to throw and catch the ball, I still couldn’t quite get the knack of it. But he remained patient, and always lobbed a soft pass toward me. During the third or fourth pass the snow began to fall, first with a few slight flakes and then at a steadier rate that began to cover the ground. I remember how I tried to pick the ball up from the snow, but because I couldn’t quite get a grip on it, I took my gloves off, and then tossed it back to him as best as I could. He caught it, and then tossed it back to me.

I remember the cold burn of my fingers stung by the slap of leather as I made an awkward catch.

After we walked into the kitchen, my stepfather had me stand on a stool in front of the sink, and then took my hand, still burning from the sting of cold, and held it under the warm tap water.

That was when I developed my first real sense of how pleasing the smell of certain foods could be. I became melded to the aroma of basted turkey wafting with the smells of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg from the apple, pumpkin and mincemeat pies cooling on the table, the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. After a few minutes, he turned the water off, and then handed me a towel. I went out into the living room and sat down next to my grandmother and aunt to wait for the call to come and eat.

There have been a lot of calls to come and eat since then, and even though I have shared in many memorable Thanksgivings, both throughout my youth, and later when I was married, and then as a single parent with my son, I still remain reminiscent of that one Thanksgiving when I was five years old.

Whenever I step in from the cold, whether it’s the kitchen of my mother or a friend, and find myself greeted by the smells combined of basted turkey, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and fresh bread, I am brought back again to that moment when I became aware of how pleasing simple things could be.

And so in this month of sepia, I give thanks to the memories that have colored my life with a sense of hope and fulfillment, to the dreams I’ve been able to create and live out, and to the sense of satisfaction and completion they have brought, but more than that, I give thanks to family and friends for the simple pleasure of being able to gather together to enjoy each other’s company in the sharing of a feast.

By S. L. Cunningham

Published in The Village Soup Citizen, 11/23/2005: 24