The Year Adis Helped Cook for Thanksgiving

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. 

Believe it or not, this is all cake, frosting, and candy for “cheese, tomato, and lettuce.”

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.



    • His older sister was in band and drama, so I was wheels for her too! These were some of my worst fibromyalgia years, but God gave me just enough energy to get those kids to their activities and back home again. We talked about books a lot and Dzenaela and I “did” all the Harry Potter books (and movies, which are just as good as the books–a surprise). Amazed and humbled at all of this.

  1. You could be on one of those baking shows – that hamburger cake is unbelievable and an unbelievable and unforgettable wonderful 🙂

  2. Holiday memories are just simply the best. Our oven bit the dust earlier this year, only the stove-top burners work. With only so much you can do with a microwave on Thanksgiving, we will celebrate at my step-son’s house this year. Happy memory-making this Thanksgiving. God’s grip – Alan

    • Just another memory for this unusual year, huh! You’ll find a great story in it to share with us all. We’re doing a zoom call with our son’s family (and only grandchild, age 3) on Thursday. Guy was an air traffic controller. When he finally got permanent weekends off, that meant working every Thursday, including Thanksgiving. We’ll be having leftovers, but with pumpkin pudding!

    • He was so even-tempered, every time I dealt with him. Even his uncle says he’s a great worker, cheerful, on time. Just a delight! He made it easy to say yes. He wanted to do a triathlon one year. It was nearby so I signed him up and said to get some advice (I was no good with sports stuff). Well, we managed to get his bike there in the back of the pickup, and he can say he’d completed a triathlon!

      Oh, I learned the word dystopian through him. He got hooked on a British kids’ novelist, so I got them and also read them. Oh, the language! Well, we talked about how much the author could have cut without taking away from the story. But the books would have been much shorter! ha

    • I thought it came from a Family Fun (magazine) Birthday Cakes book. The cheeseburger cake isn’t in it (but the instructions told how many drops of coloring to make the bun come out right!), but had our Erupting Volcano Cake in it. How could I forget that one?

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