I’m in the process of making dressing for the Thanksgiving meal we’ll have at mama’s tomorrow, and I can’t stop thinking about grandma. Grandma made the best dressing in the whole world. Not stuffing, dressing. Stuffing was a little frou frou for us. As a kid, I regularly perched myself on that wobbly kitchen stool and watched her mix up cornbread and bread with onion, celery, spices, broth and of all things, chicken noodle soup until she had it just the way she wanted it. Then I would wait eagerly for that savory smell to start drifting from the oven. Dressing has always been one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal.
There’s a hierarchy to the assignment of dishes for the Thanksgiving meal, with the cooking of the turkey and dressing left to the senior members of the family. When you’re a newlywed or a new in-law who has to prove her culinary worth, you’re usually assigned something foolproof like corn or rolls, and you work your way up the casserole ladder each year until you reach the pinnacle of the spread, which is the turkey. Dressing, however, is right up there under the turkey. Screw it up, and your one shot at captain’s bars in the Thanksgiving army is over. You’ll be busted down to green bean private faster than you can say French’s Fried Onions.
I graduated to dressing duty a couple of years ago, which was a little earlier than I expected, but I think mama was just overwhelmed enough that year to delegate that duty. And since no one else jumped at the chance, I said, “Me, me, me!” Now, I didn’t mess up the dressing that year, but my dressing was just okay. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t set the world on fire. Its popularity level was somewhere between Bristol Palin (thank heavens the viewers of DWTS did the right thing) and a TSA pat down. Since then, I have continued to tweak it in hopes of making it really good one day. I don’t have any hope of it ever being as good as Grandma’s, but I’ll try. And as I mix that cornbread and fixin’s tonight, I’ll be seeing Grandma in her apron standing in front of that stove with that banged up baking pan wishing she was here to teach me how to graduate to captain.
*That picture is of grandma holding mama in the early 1940's.