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The Thanksgiving Lady

Dec 7, 2009

jean gillis 175x131 The Thanksgiving Lady Thanksgiving Pasadena teacher Jean Gillis  photoWith this post we’re welcoming new Hometown Pasadena contributor Jean Gillis, who’s sharing some of her posts from her terrific new blog, Dating Yourself in Pasadena. If you recognize the name Gillis, that’s because she’s the sister of Hometown Pasadenan Sandy Gillis, and she’s every bit the good writer her sister is. Jean teaches at a continuation high school in the San Gabriel Valley; here’s an after-the-fact report on her school’s Thanksgiving dinner.
— CDB, editor

roast turkey The Thanksgiving Lady Thanksgiving Pasadena teacher Jean Gillis  photoLast Wednesday our school hosted its annual Thanksgiving Feast. This is a traditional event that grows from mere mention in October to trumpet blasts from on high by the fourth week of November. It’s a time of great anticipation, and once again to my immense relief we pulled it off. I’d estimate we served 200+ dinners to students and guests.

For reasons of poverty or other social woes, a number of our students always go without the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. However, we see it as our job to normalize kids’ experiences as best we can in the short time we connect with them. The Thanksgiving preparation process is ideal for that. Let’s face it: everyone can be helpful if given a chance and the encouragement to do so. We just have to devise the ways to elicit their help.

I was this year’s Thanksgiving Lady, the person who makes sure the event happens. In my usual circular style, I needed to enlist gobs of helpers. The staff is fine. They sign up to contribute and cook volumes of food: nine turkeys; 50 pounds of corn; 60+ pounds of mashed potatoes; rolls, salad, gravy, dressing. We also asked the students to bring dessert. They really came through. Loads of pies and brownies and cakes, all daubed with whipped cream. A bonus this year was a former parent who has an angel’s touch in the community. She scored us three salads from Souplantation, a tray of mashed potatoes, and three more turkeys from Fresh and Easy. This all made for a great presentation. For the students, especially the boys, it’s the quantity of food offered that thrills them. In the whole buildup to this day we kind of mythologize the meal. Its bounty addresses cravings that a lot of our kids conceal in daily life.

Even though I find organizing the dinner nerve-wracking, there is a part I like. That part is the metamorphosis. It’s a human metamorphosis, wherein the individuals gradually merge to form a single working organism. Even the more obdurate ones can come around (the difficult boy who made me a poster listing the helpers because he could ‘bomb’ or stylize the heading; the too-cool-for-school kids who brought pies and waited patiently in the buffet line…). The two days prior to the dinner ramp up with activity. Girls who typically apply makeup in class carefully arranged buckets of greens from my yard for our pilgrim tables. Boys who cross their arms and stare when I ask them to start their assignments moved tables and set up chairs. Detail kids wrapped utensils in napkins and tied them smartly and set out placecards and collected leaves for decor.

We showcased this meal at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. It’s always a crapshoot in continuation as to who will show up for any event. But sure enough, the line from the science room where the buffet sat steaming snaked down the hall by 10:20. We staff donned our black aprons. The nurse, counselors, teachers, office ladies, even a board member all stood poised with ladles and tongs. The runners angled themselves toward the exit for the refills. For a moment I stood in the empty center of the horseshoe and pretended I was Gustavo Dudamel at Disney Hall. And then on my signal, the organism pulsed and its every function came to life. Dinner was served.




4 Responses for “The Thanksgiving Lady”

  1. Welcome to the Blogosphere.
    Your blog has good stories. You certainly do good work!

    Thanks for including a mention of Souplantation in thiis!

  2. Petrea says:

    Loved this piece.

  3. District teacher says:

    This was a wonderful day. And every word is true. The students really appreciate the TLC from
    our community. Thanks for everyone who contributed to the meal.

  4. What a titanic undertaking! Those kids are lucky to have such a nice Thanksgiving Lady!!

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