Thanksgiving dinner was at Dzenaela’s Aunt Jorja’s. Jorja is an Iowa girl who married Dzenaela’s uncle Almir. In fact, Almir’s parents–who are about my age–were visiting that year from Bosnia.
So, Aunt Jorja was in charge of the turkey, potatoes, and a dessert. Since Dzenaela loved fixing the turkey, she helped at Jorja’s house.
I invited her younger brother Adis to help make pumpkin pie and other side dishes. He was born in Iowa when his parents had been here just over a year. They asked if I’d accompany Zlatka through labor and delivery, to help with English, so I did. His birth was the first I’d ever witnessed.
After Adis started school, I sorta became his Cub Scouts grandma. We’d made cakes together for fund-raisers–a lady bug, one that looked like a cheeseburger, and even a prize winning alligator. We’d always decorated them at his condo. So this was the first time we’d cook at my place.
I had him crack four eggs into a large bowl and started to hand him a whisk to beat them. Then, remembering my son at that age years ago, decided that an old-fashioned egg beater would be more fun for a ten-year-old boy.
It was, especially when he was still cranking away to flick off the dribbles, flipping egg all over the counter. Good thing our clean-up rag was at the ready.
Then he measured the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves–after sniffing each one, just like my son used to. Adis liked the cinnamon. Next came stirring while I opened cans of pumpkin and evaporated milk. He scraped the pumpkin into the eggs. I poured in the first can of milk, but he wanted to do the second one himself.
When all was mixed, he ladled it into two pie shells, while I explained what custard is, and that pumpkin pie is one kind of custard. I carried the filled pie shells on a cookie sheet to the stove.
The oven wasn’t quite hot enough so I parked the pies and turned around to do some counter clean up.
There sat the bowl of nicely-combined sugar and spices.
I laughed. “Oh dear, we forgot the spices. Now what?”
“Just stir it into the pies,” Adis suggested.
I ended up pouring the pumpkin mix back into the large bowl, leaving a sloppy edge on both pie shells. While Adis stirred in the spiced sugar, I wiped off what I could from the edges of the dough with a paper towel.
Ladling had been too slow, I guess. This time Adis just hefted the big bowl and poured the filling into the pie shells. By then the oven was ready. He carefully carried the cookie sheet with the pies to the stove, but had me lift it into the hot oven.
“Our pies are going to look kinda ugly,” I said.
“Oh, they’ll taste good anyway.” Those brown eyes twinkled.
That was nice of him, especially since Bosnians hadn’t gotten used to the taste of pumpkin pie. I knew he wouldn’t eat any.
“And we’ll have a fun story to tell,” I added.
One hour to bake, a couple of hours to cool. We still had scalloped corn, stuffing, and green bean casserole to make.
Adis crushed crackers for the corn. “I like my corn plain,” he admitted. While sauteing onions and celery for stuffing, he remarked that he probably wouldn’t eat any of that either.
As he opened the mushroom soup for the green bean casserole, he noted that he wasn’t a fan of mushrooms. Oh well, he’d at least enjoy Aunt Jorja’s mashed potatoes and gravy.
I showed him the checklist of what all we were having for the feast, and which relative was bringing what food–such as his mother’s Bosnian bread. He’d eat that!
“Is anyone bringing chips?”
We laughed, but he was serious.
Indeed, Adis didn’t eat one single thing he’d helped make for the festivities. And his Bosnian grandmother couldn’t quite make herself taste the turkey or the pumpkin pie. Jorja had a roast beef in the slow cooker, just in case. But his grandfather ate some of everything and went back for seconds.
It was an interesting day, with a mix of immigrants, Iowans, and descendants of Mayflower Pilgrims, sharing an American Thanksgiving.
When I got home, I jotted potato chips on the next year’s Thanksgiving checklist.
And added the “bringer’s” name right next to it. Adis.
I also became Adis’s flag football and basketball grandma, baseball grandma one summer, but mostly his soccer grandma–making sure he got to practices and home games.
I asked him recently if he’d learned to like pumpkin pie. He replied that he’d rather have apple pie with ice cream, and brisket instead of turkey.
He was awarded a soccer scholarship to attend Iowa Central Community College, where he graduated, and wants to go on to more college.
He’ll spend Thanksgiving this year in tech school, as a new member of the Iowa Air National Guard.
Published in The Des Moines Register November 28, 2019.
The story of Dzenaela’s first turkey.
Thanksgiving Day 2020, 11-minute story on Our American Stories, which includes his older sister’s first turkey.