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VENTURA COUNTY PERSPECTIVE | PERSPECTIVE ON THANKSGIVING

An Occasion for a Party to Honor What Is Good, What Is Real

Reflection and celebration, not the particulars of a meal, are the focus of an event shared by family and friends.

November 19, 2000|ROSIE LEE | Rosie Lee lives in Westlake Village

The doorbell rang. Joan had arrived with the new love of her life, Ozziebaboo, a little yellow parakeet, complete with stand and cage. It was Thanksgiving and finally everyone was there, all 18 of us. Joan had brought the last of the meal--the pumpkin pies and the table decorations (which I do believe came from the roadside on her way down to Westlake from Santa Barbara).

My niece Amy, who was 7 at the time, had flown out from Boston the day before. She couldn't take her eyes off Joan with her unruly long red hair and the little bird that was let out of its cage to fly around my living room. My sister Pam sidled up to me and chuckled in my ear, "Do you care if the bird drops its doo in your house?" It promised to be a great day.

Thanksgiving is about getting back to basics and remembering what matters. It's not just about food and protocol and tradition but also about a chance to celebrate the good and to reflect on what is real. For me, it has become an occasion to have a party that honors the heartfelt.

I don't think about the Pilgrims. I don't long for snowy drives into the countryside to visit my artist uncle and his eccentric friends. I don't wish to be sitting around the table again with my haughty cousin snickering at my vegetarian ways, or having to clear the table like a good girl while the boring sound of a football game plays in the background.

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I don't want Thanksgiving to have pretense. I want it to be symbolic of what is good in life. And with that, the pleasant mashed potatoes and gravy memories of the past have come forward, and the rest is left behind.

The group that gathers around my table includes a few adventurous relatives who fly in from the East Coast for the food and the fun but mostly consists of a diverse bunch that makes up my family of friends on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

For many years, I worked for an organization with multiple international affiliates and at Thanksgiving would find myself host to colleagues from around the world. These internationals would wind up at my house to enjoy the great feast for the first time. Probably the biggest compliment came from Marc, a Frenchman and long-term house guest who said that the Thanksgiving meal was America's only real contribution to the world of fine cuisine. ("That and the hot dog," I replied.)

Although bound by tradition, Thanksgiving nevertheless lends itself to interpretation and invention. When I first started inviting people over for the big meal several years ago, I wanted everyone to bring a dish that brought the memories of their own tradition back to life. I suppose I was trying to capture the feeling of the past through the food, like that was somehow doing it right.

It made for an eclectic assortment of dishes, which was fine as long as the basics were covered. If Jim's potatoes arrived with skins on, mushrooms and tamari, no problem, as long as David showed up with the creamy whites. If Mari wanted to bring flan and minted peas, fine, as long as John made an apple pie and Nancy brought green beans.

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Our food and wine scene has now matured to the point that we are so confident in our presentation of the meal that we no longer sit around the table. My house is small and the crowd festive, with the cultural mix punctuated by a few who want to dance after dinner.

We discovered this when one year a music crisis developed while Mari and Terry looked through my very bluesy collection and couldn't find anything to suit their rhythmic impulses. Needless to say it's since been sorted out, as the fearful now bring their own tunes and we no longer try to set a big table that leaves everyone stuck in their seats. The reality is, we haven't done anything so innovative in our attempt to gather our creative and energetic forces around a great holiday that features good company, good will, good graces, good food, good wine and good cheer. To feel the power of love and bonding is one of the great gifts known to humankind and it is this basic sentiment that pulls people together.

On the day that she arrived with Ozziebaboo, Joan asked us each after dinner to say what we were grateful for. I heard some real things that November night. People expressed appreciation for love and for life. The mood was genuine and soothing. I felt the fullness of a true and gentle love brought to me courtesy of life--one beat at a time.

Thanksgiving provides an excuse to focus on what's good--often leading us to remember, too, what is real. Feeling fulfilled needn't be dependent on an occasion, but a gathering in celebration of the good serves to accentuate and heighten the awareness that its presence is always there.

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