Soy Sauce Will Make You Yellow

soysauceThanksgiving has never been one of my favorite holidays.  When I look back on how we spent it every year as a family, I can certainly see why.

In case you did not know, I’m Chinese.  Growing up in South
Florida, many of my friends often referred to me as a “banana”- yellow
on the outside, but white on the inside.  Upon meeting me, it’s obvious
I’m Asian.  However, my Cantonese is lousy and I have an unhealthy
relationship with pizza and hot wings.  Despite my very Chinese
parents, I’m guessing this has to do with me being born and raised in
the U.S.

Every Thanksgiving when my friends and neighbors scattered off to
their dining tables, most had signature pies, green bean casseroles,
sweet candied yams, and of course, a traditional golden, brown turkey
from the oven.  Friends and family would all sit around a table,
laughing and boasting about how creamy the mashed potatoes were.

My Thanksgiving pasts?

Heaping bowls of rice, fungus resembling hair with mushrooms, clear
noodles, and of course a traditional chicken.  Boiled, sliced, with
it’s head staring back at me from the platter.  Oh, and soy sauce,
plenty of soy sauce for dipping.  My family that hovered around a
folding table in the middle of a living room comprised of at least a
dozen elderly relatives.  My mom, brother and I were the only ones
under the age of 60 (my father worked Thanksgiving Day).

Sitting in a living room crammed full of older Chinese folks
yammering in Cantonese wasn’t exactly fun for a little girl.  Not that
the food wasn’t delicious.  I just didn’t have much to do.  I’d sit and
watch everyone scoop rice and try my best to answer if anyone spoke to
me in Cantonese.  Among the clamoring of chopsticks and conversation, I
often broke free to sit on their matted, green shag rug to watch a
football game on the wooden console TV.  My mind would wander off,
wondering how sweet yams tasted with a touch of brown sugar and tiny
marshmallows on top. Or what was a “casserole” exactly? And did people
actually cook stuffing inside of a turkey?

I never knew these things.

When I moved out of Florida, I left to become a traveling nurse. 
Deep within my 3 suitcases, I had a pair of chopsticks and a single
noodle bowl I moved with every 12 weeks. I’m not sure why I packed
them, but I did.  Perhaps it was the solitude of being alone, or the
lack of decent Chinese food in town.  But over time, I found myself
yearning for the smells, flavors, and linguistic chaos of those holiday
gatherings.  I began collecting soy sauce packets from my take-out
orders.  I’d cook myself a pot of rice, turn over the lid to watch the
steam rise, and drizzle soy sauce over the puffed grains to catch the
smell of it sizzling along the bottom of the pan.

In recent years, my husband and I have had our own traditional
Thanksgiving meals. We’ve spent hours thawing and cooking a turkey. 
I’ve slaved over piecrusts, fillings, and every type of potato.

We’ve rocked the gobble gobble.

Oddly enough, I have never been able to shake the feeling that something is missing.

Of all the family who sat around that folding table 20+ years ago,
only a few people remain.  Most of them have passed.  And sadly, I
never had a chance to really communicate with them well.  
Nevertheless, the memories of their chopsticks insisting food onto my
plate, the shuffling Mahjong pieces, and all of their warm smiles will
stay with me forever.

It is these memories that surface every year on this holiday,
moments that have shaped my own meaning of Thanksgiving.  Recollections
that continue to strengthen my roots.

I can only hope to provide my daughter with her own memories of
Thanksgiving.  Maybe she can be my little “egg,” white on the outside,
and a little yellow on the inside.

Perhaps starting this year, with some turkey, stuffing, and maybe a little rice and soy sauce on the side.

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