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
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
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.)
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.
He goes by “Junobi” or “Juno” for short, but in the Ree household they just call him “the King.”
I was struck by how similar “the King” and “the rockstar” are.
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.
My sister-in-law, Mia, calls me. “Do you have your computer?”
“Get on Skype.”
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.
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…
And, of course, after that brief interlude, Juno returned to his regularly scheduled dinner…
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.”
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!
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.
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.”