The carrots are shredded, a task I rarely remember my mom doing each year as the dish magically appeared chilling in the refrigerator the night before the grand meal. But I do remember one year, a very long time ago, sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, holding the grater with my very small hands.
It’s a distant dream, one that isn’t quite mine. It only comes back as my now-larger hands grasp the grater and the carrot. I am now the creator of the magic. I pause over the ceremonial vegetable massacre and I smell her cigarettes. I feel loved. I feel connected.
It was later in life that Mom revealed the secret – this was the recipe of her own grandmother: a woman called Julie who I barely even met in stories. Julie, called Duddie by her friends and Mom by her kids, was my grandfather’s mother. She lived just the next town over from my mom growing up and hosted marvelous Thanksgivings (at least that’s how they are remembered in my imagination) until her husband died when my mom was nine. Mom says that on her table, every Thanksgiving, was this jello dish. Around my childhood table it’s called “orange crap,” but it also now goes by the name “Julie’s Jello” whenever we bring the dish to a church potluck.
This year was my first Thanksgiving away from home. I went about my morning as usual, Skyping my brother as he prepared his first turkey in his first home. My sister-in-law decorated beautifully and apparently made more vegetables than was possible to eat. My mom brought the orange crap, out of tradition more than anything. After all, we agreed together, it’s not Thanksgiving without the orange crap. I went to language school and even learned the word for turkey (“pabo”). Later that night, I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on my sister’s television, thanks to Skype. It’s another tradition that is more personal than familial. It’s one I hope to pass down to my children, thanks to technology, no matter where we are in the world.
Tomorrow, on Saturday, my husband and I will join with team members for a Thanksgiving potluck celebration. The orange crap is chilling in the refrigerator, preparing to make the taxi ride. As a part of my now global family, I’ll let them in on the real name, a sheepish look on my face as I do so. It may not an enticing name, but it’s our tradition as much as the dish itself. And it’s one that I can carry on wherever I can find boxes of jello and carrots to shred.