It isn’t Thanksgiving without the kimchee

22 November 2007.

The dishes are being passed around the table: turkey, white and dark meat, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato, stuffing, kimchee…

Maybe at your Thanksgiving there is that dish that is not like the others—the one that reminds you that no matter how twinkie you’ve become, there is still a hint of your ethnic heritage you just can’t get rid of.

At the Korean-American Thanksgiving table, that dish is kimchee.

The sight of kimchee reminds me that in the last two decades, this is only my second Thanksgiving spent with the family. I recall the other one…

[Two (first) thanksgivings with the family after the jump]

The Thanksgiving Chicken Story

November 1994.

Mom and I are getting groceries at Giant Eagle. Mom laughs, “I get to get the turkey this year.”

“How did that happen?”

“Last year, Dad bought chicken for Thanksgiving.”

Hmm, that sounds like a story worthy of some detective work…

Normally, we have Thanksgiving in New Jersey or in Albany, but that time it was at home with my mom and dad, my brother, Dad’s sister and her husband. Dad bought the turkey.

Aunt and uncle arrive first. They open the freezer. “That’s an awfully small turkey,” Aunt Kehi comments.

“I got a small turkey because there are so few of us,” her brother says.

Ken comes back from Princeton later. At some point, he gets the munchies and opens the refrigerator. “Hey, what’s the chicken doing in the freezer?” He yells out.

“That’s not a chicken! That’s a turkey.” Mom and Dad yell back.

“Are you sure it isn’t a chicken?”

“No, it’s just a really small turkey,” Mom and Dad correct.

“Looks like a chicken to me,” Ken grumbles before closing the refrigerator and returning to the television.

The next day, in the morning, Kehi and Mom wake up to prepare the turkey. They unwrap the plastic and read the directions:

Unwrap chicken. Put chicken on pan. Preheat oven. Put chicken in oven for… chicken… chicken… chicken

1993: The year of the Thanksgiving chicken.

Chicken Little’s tale

Of course, I had to hear the other side of the story—I asked Dad about it.

“Ahh, so Mom told you I got chicken for Thanksgiving?”

“Well every time we have Thanksgiving, Mommy buys too big a turkey. It’s always really dry and we always have leftovers. We’re at the grocery store and Mommy puts a huge turkey in the shopping cart. Way too big!

“I put the turkey back and tell her, ‘Upchung, don’t get the turkey, I’ll get the turkey!’ I’m going to buy the most expensive, tastiest, juiciest, smallest turkey they have.

“I walk down the turkey aisle and I’m looking at the price per pound. 27 cents/pound, 32 cents/pound, 29 cents/pound, 30 cents/pound… 74 cents/pound!

“Wow! This must be the best turkey ever!

“Kehi called us before they came, they asked, ‘Should we bring the turkey?’—they normally buy a turkey from the local farm—and I told them, ‘No, no. We bought a turkey.” *laughs*

Thanksgiving 1994

It’s a small Thanksgiving this year, just the four of us—our last Thanksgiving together. I report my findings on the previous year’s festivity.

“You know, I was listening to NPR. Apparently at the first Thanksgiving they didn’t have turkey at all,” I mention.

“Haha. Then for all we know, that Thanksgiving chicken may have been authentic—just like the pilgrims had!” Ken quips.

(Oh yes, the turkey was too big and we had leftovers.)

Yeah, I think I can take it
Yeah, I think I can take it
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/500sec, iso 320, 35mm (47mm)

Leftovers or not. It may be Juno’s first Thanksgiving, but even he knows a turkey when he sees it!

Thanksgiving 2007

Every time I see a huge turkey, I can’t help but recount the story of the Thanksgiving chicken—“just like the pilgrims had.” Every detail is quintessentially Dad, quintessentially Ken, and quintessentially Mom.

At the table this year, with my mom’s brother’s family, we all have a good laugh, remembering my mom. We may have lost Mom, but this year, the Ree family welcomed a new addition: Kipa Junobi Ree. He’s the first of his generation—and, as the bib says, it’s his first thanksgiving.

Baby's 1st Thanksgiving
Baby’s 1st Thanksgiving
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/22sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

The bib says, “baby’s 1st Thanksgiving.”

He goes by “Junobi” or “Juno” for short, but in the Ree household they just call him “the King.”

When you look this cute…
When you look this cute…
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/90sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

It’s obvious why he’s “the King.”

I was struck by how similar “the King” and “the rockstar” are.

New & Old 1New & Old 2New & Old 3New & Old 4
New & Old 1-4
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/00sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

I wonder if Juno will end up with Uncle Francis’s devilish charm. Somehow, while taking photos of him, I’m thinking that’s very likely. Not sure if the world can handle another Uncle Francis. :-D

Thanksgiving 2006

After sharing the story, Peter tells one of his own. Apparently, Thanksgiving one year ago was when his sister, Chris, dropped the “thanksgiving surprise” on Uncle Francis and Aunt Clara—that she was pregnant (with Junobi).

She waited all dinner to mention it. Peter knew already and spent the entire dinner in giddy with anticipation.

Peter and Chris, my west coast cousins
Peter and Chris, my west coast cousins
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/45sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

They’re skyping with the other half of the Ree family.

Skyping

My sister-in-law, Mia, calls me. “Do you have your computer?”

“Of course!”

“Get on Skype.”

A Thanksgiving Skype
A Thanksgiving Skype
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/45sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

Auntie Gia is asking Wayne when he and Chris are going to get married.

I got Mia a MacBook last Christmas and set up Skype on it. She tells me “Clarence” has changed her life. She loves it, second after my brother, of course. I don’t have any time to travel nowadays so the gift is the best sort, for it has paid me back in a priceless way.

Everyone together for Thanksgiving
Everyone together for Thanksgiving
Chester, New Jersey

Mac Book Pro, Skype
Cmd-Shift-3

(left to right) Auntie Gia, cousin Alex, cousin Tammy, Ken, Uncle Paul, and Mia meet the family’s newest addition for the first time. The first question on everyone’s lips: “Hey, Chris, have you finally named him yet?”

This leads into a discussion of the origins of the name “Kipa” and “Junobi.” Followed by some polite teasing about Ken needing a haircut (he’s “Korean Yanni” someone says). When is it going to be Ken and Mia’s turn to drop a “thanksgiving surprise” on the family? A discussion on when Chris is marrying Wayne (Umm, how’s that going to work? When has a member of this family not been stubborn?). Tammy’s boyfriend. How Juno has the same hair as his father (more obsession with the hair.) Finally, “the King” reviewed his East Coast subjects…

“The King” meets the rest of the royal family
“The King” meets the rest of the royal family
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/60sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

And, of course, after that brief interlude, Juno returned to his regularly scheduled dinner…

Juno goes to town
Juno goes to town
Chester, New Jersey

Mac Book Pro, Skype
Cmd-Shift-3

Juno obviously thinks that milk does the body good. My cousins appreciate their new nephew’s fine choice in Thanksgiving cuisine.

New Jersey returned the surprise to Oakland. We had been talking for about thirty minutes before Chris whispers to me, “Is that Alex?”

“Yes,” I say. “Who did you think it was?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was a friend of the family or Tammy’s boyfriend.”

The last time either of us have seen Alex was when he was, Alexander, a toddler following Abogee around. Now, he’s a third year undergraduate at Cornell and he blogs!

my cousin Alex blogs too

Much-needed humility

This brings me to another observation: God’s great comedic (ironic) timing. Up until this point, I’ve been thinking:

Hey, my brother is married; I’m finally “single and ready to mingle”—time to do a Junobi and “go to town.”

And just when you think that the move to San Francisco and your new social life has made you “10% cuter,” your baby cousins grow up and end up looking like Peter and Alex. Life isn’t fair—really!

Thanksgiving 2008?

The only people missing from our first virtual Thanksgiving are Dad and Auntie Tamaya. I’ve gotten Dad set up with a new iMac this Christmas, so I just have Auntie Tamaye to go. We’ll probably have to switch to iChat next year.

Thanksgiving candles
Thanksgiving candles
Oakland, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2 Aspherical
1/125sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

Dad and Auntie. You weren’t there this time, but you were there in our hearts.

So how was your thanksgiving?

Hope your TG was tryptofantastic!

When I got back, people asked me—perhaps out of politeness, possibly out of actual curiosity—if I had a good Thanksgiving.

I replied, “I had a great Thanksgiving. After all, there was kimchee.”

My generation, East Coast contingent
My generation, East Coast contingent
Chester, New Jersey

HP PhotoSmart C200
1/32sec, f/2.8, 5.9mm

(Link to the entire photoset.)

7 thoughts on “It isn’t Thanksgiving without the kimchee

  1. Alex

    Thanks for plugging my blog Terry! I think that’ll bump me to most popular of the Cornell bloggers. Have a good new year!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: The Woodwork » Blog Archive » Mac purchases

  3. Pingback: Family Photos | The Woodwork

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