Carrots, a.k.a Sweet Potatoes
“Caroline, these are the best carrots I’ve ever eaten!” said Uncle Stanley.
Stanley’s head was bald and he wore wire-rimmed glasses, both were extra shiny in the November snow-kissed light that streamed into the kitchen past the peach dotted-swiss curtains my Mom, Caroline, had sewed herself.
Thanksgiving Day foods crowded the table, expanded by an extra leaf used on special occasions, and Uncle Stanley’s plate was piled high. Space was tight; getting into the refrigerator would have required an uncle who topped my list of favorites to inhale his pot belly and scoot forward.
The tightness cozied the kitchen; it was intimate – awash in close-knit chatter, familiarity, and celebration. A plastic doggie toy, a small red ball with a bell inside, sat next to Aunt Stella’s fork. It belonged to Midgie, the miniature poodle who sat in her lap.
“Stashu, those aren’t carrots, they’re sweet potatoes!” Dad said. My Dad called his older brother “Stashu” – an affectionate Polish nickname.
“Sweet potatoes!” Uncle Stanley said. “I hate sweet potatoes!” He grimaced. His chin tucked in as he swallowed the bite he chewed on and that was the last he took. Everybody around the table, me, my two brothers and two sisters, Mom and Dad, my aunt, erupted into laughter. So did Uncle Stanley. The smile that painted his face creased his cheeks into dimples and crinkled his eyes shut as his body jiggled with laughter. Midgie yapped. Later, as I washed a mountain of dishes, I scraped the rest of Uncle Stanley’s “carrots” into the garbage can.
I’ve sat at Thanksgiving Day tables for 67 years. I don’t remember many of them. But this memory has longevity, why?
Uncle Stanley and Aunt Stella loved us kids. They did not have children of their own. Every time they visited, they brought us special gifts, rare treats, such as milk chocolates shaped and wrapped like cigarettes from Sanders, a famous Detroit-based confectioner. Even the box they came in looked like a pack of cigarettes. We pretended to smoke them before we ate them. Now, chocolate cigarettes seem ludicrous, but at the time, they didn’t.
Those gifts told me that Uncle Stanley and Aunt Stella thought of us when we weren’t with them. They paid attention to what children liked. Their gifts were tokens of a presence and affection that were palpable and endearing.
We loved their visits, a break from the ordinary, a time out of time. Being with them lifted us into a grace where connection to a family beyond our band of seven was conscious, a cause for celebration.
Uncle Stanley was jolly and tender. He could laugh at himself. His was a “tee hee hee” kind of laugh, a chuckle that rolled like a wave through his ample frame from top to bottom. Both he and Aunt Stella were “take us as we are” kind of people. They and their dog, Midgie, came as a package.
This week in the United States we face a Thanksgiving Day rendered unusual by a raging pandemic. Perhaps Uncle Stanley and his “carrots” — a.k.a “sweet potatoes” offer a few lessons about how beautiful memories can happen when our yearly rituals are out of reach.
If we can’t be with the ones we love, let’s love the ones we’re with. Let’s slow down and share affection. Let’s look, up close and personal, at our loved ones and treasure the bits and pieces that make them unique. Let’s eat something out of the ordinary. Let’s give something out of the ordinary. Let’s be endearing. Let’s Zoom with family we can’t be with and celebrate the fabric of connection however we can. Let’s laugh at ourselves and be our version of jolly and tender.
Thanksgiving Day magic can happen whether we’re with just with our households or have welcomed a few members of our pandemic “pods.”
In the spirit of affection, out of the ordinary, memories so sweet can rise that they linger long after the last bite of “carrots.”
Copyright 2020: Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D.
Dr. Linda Sandel Pettit, a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, can be found at www.thedrspettit.com. She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding and clinical experience in service to others. She is available for on-line and phone psychospiritual and intuitive conversations. For information about fees and packages, visit BOOK NOW. In November, book with the coupon THANKSGIVING, get a half-priced session and she’ll donate $25 to a food bank. E-mail Linda for more information or fee assistance.