Gurdon: On Thanksgiving, battle lines over Brussels sprouts

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"Definitely apple pie."

"Two apple pies!"

"And pecan pie, and pumpkin pie and cherry pie -- "

"Coconut cream! I've never had coconut cream pie!"

"I don't know, sweetie, that's not really traditional."

"It is if you live in Hawaii, I bet."

"Well, we don't live in Hawaii," put in a sibling.

"So what? Just because -- "

"Hey, calm down. We can have a coconut cream pie, too, why not?"

"We should have one pie per person."

Everyone laughed, but the children's smiles vanished when we moved to the question of vegetables.

"No, no, no, not Brussels sprouts! Nobody likes Brussels sprouts."

"I like 'em."

"OK, that's just weird."

"Maybe. But it's just one of those transformations you go through, when you become a grown-up. One day you wake up and you actually want to eat things like Brussels sprouts. And eggplant."

One of the girls grabbed her middle and keeled over.

"And kale," she gagged. "And mushrooms, bleah."

One of our family's great seasonal pleasures is the planning of holiday meals. The first conversations begin the minute the leaves start to change. Someone says: "I can't wait for Christmas!" and someone else points out that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas, and then we're off -- talking over the various dishes and arguing about the most delicious ways to prepare them.

Because the fundaments of Thanksgiving are immovable -- according to New England custom, there must be roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed Yukon golds and pie -- all the debate takes place on the margins.

What kind of pies, exactly? Should the green beans be steamed or made into a casserole? Do we really have to eat repulsive old Brussels sprouts?

Once the family has hashed out the Thanksgiving menu, discussion swiftly moves to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. Riotous disputes arise among the children over foods considered delicacies by adults (morels, ick! oysters, yuck!), and there's always a round of scoffing when the children's grandmother points out that when she was a girl, it was a treat to have a roast chicken for Christmas dinner.

"Chicken? Boring," a ruffian will remark.

"You children don't know how lucky you are," their grandmother will reply.

She's right. They are, in fact, good and appreciative children, but they cannot possibly know their own good fortune because they have never been without it.

For that I am so, so thankful.

Having been born in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the children have never even seen half-empty supermarket shelves. They have not known a time when meat or fresh fruits were rationed or unaffordable or simply unavailable. They may not always rejoice at what I serve for dinner, but they've never gone without. A person does not have to be a close student of history to know that such plenty has not always been the case -- and in certain dark corners of the world, and of our country, is not the case today.

So, with the children we talk about whether it is wrong to put ice cream on Thanksgiving pie (maybe) and whether to depart from the orthodoxy of plain cranberry sauce (nah), and generally roll around in the whole luxurious idea of the meal we will eat today -- and never, not even for a second, do I take it for granted. I am too grateful for that.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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