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Julie McCracken portrait

Excerpts from Illinois writer Julie McCracken’s memoir “Lord, Please Let Me Live Until Strawberry Season,” published in Passager in 1992.
5 minutes


We’ve moved from the summer, to the season of shedding leaves, to the traditional season of gaining weight. To commemorate it, excerpts from a piece by Julie McCracken that Passager published way back in 1992.

I survey the array for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner and resist the urge to swallow a Valium. I know Mother will arrive momentarily with recipes calling for impossible-to-find ingredients which she will magically disinter from her car trunk, along with the Polaroid camera to memorialize the results. I’ve labeled the serving dishes already, so I won’t put the cornbread dressing where the escalloped oysters go, like I did last year. With twenty pounds of potatoes to mash and Mother’s sweet potatoes on the way, I am confident that I have the starch portion of the meal under control. What to photograph? Aunt Vashti’s daughter Pansy already challenged me with a five-by-seven photo of her Key lime pie with meringue peaks glistening like pearls. Rumor has it that Uncle Del’s son Harvey is about to circulate a photo of a whole smoked salmon in aspic.

[In the Asher family], each family album contained photographs of perfectly baked, beautifully displayed food, so that it was not uncommon to see a photo of some baby’s first steps next to a large photo of a pecan chocolate tart, or a particularly attractive casserole. In her purse, Aunt Vashti carried a photo of a crown pork roast with pastel paper flowers adorning each bone, and in Aunt Exie’s was a Bavarian torte oozing fresh raspberries and whipped cream. Mother’s favorite was her photo of a raspberry pudding bejeweled with whipped cream rosettes, whole red raspberries and sugared violets. They displayed the food photos along with those of their children and were equally proud of each.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkey was not enough. The Ashers baked chickens early in the day, so that stomachs set rumbling by the smell of roast turkey, baked ham, fresh ham, and three different kinds of dressing could be satisfied by a slice of chicken.

Occasionally, spouses forgot what kind of family they had married into like the time Uncle Orvil’s wife Pearl foolishly thought that candied sweet potatoes were sufficient at Thanksgiving, and did not prepare mashed potatoes. To the Ashers, this infamous holiday was one word, all in capital letters:


This unfortunate meal was recorded on film, and whenever it was shown, just as the camera panned the table laden with food, someone would remark, “See? Right there, next to the cornbread dressing? Now don’t you think a bowl of mashed potatoes would have looked real nice there?” That comment generally brought tears to Pearl’s eyes, and she sobbed, “I just hope you-all can forgive me.” At Pearl’s graveside, Mother whispered to me, “I know Pearl was upset about those mashed potatoes, but how can you call it Thanksgiving without a big bowl of mashed potatoes?”

I hear the sound of Mother’s cane and the rustle of paper bags on the back porch. I swallow the contemplated Valium without water and pray to the God of Parsley that I can conceal enough imperfections with greenery to water the mouths of the remaining Ashers.

Excerpts from “Lord, Please Let Me Live Until Strawberry Season,” published in Passager in 1992.

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