As a child I didn’t consider Thanksgiving a real holiday. It was a sedate mid-point wedged between the two real holidays, Halloween (scaring people and candy) and Christmas (presents and candy). Usually, Thanksgiving was not a meal that we celebrated at our house. Instead, my parents would pack 5 kids into the car for a 2 hour drive up the Mass Turnpike to my grandparents’ house. To tolerate the ride, as well as survive the celebratory chaos that lay ahead, my father would smoke a cigar. He’d crack his window, but the smoke curled into the back seats. This annoyed all of the other occupants of the car. Usually about ½ hour in to the trip, cordial conversation ended. Instead, my father growled instructions to “Stay on your own side of the seat” and “Don’t make me pull this car over.” In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving foods, my grandparents stocked up on State Line potato chips and individual glass bottles of Coke. A convenience store called Jane Alden was within walking distance of their house and it was open on Thanksgiving, a novelty at the time. My grandparents kept a drawer filled with coins and at some point, we were allowed to grab a fistful of change to go purchase candy at Jane Alden. By the time we got back into the car at the end of the day, we were groggy from the Thanksgiving meal, hopped up on sugar and slightly nauseous. Occasionally, someone would throw up on the ride home. Not even cigar smoke covered that odor. When I was twelve, I complained about having to go to my grandparents for Thanksgiving. My mother chided me and tried to refocus me on the purpose of the holiday. “What are you going to do to show that you are grateful for the meal they’ve prepared?” she asked. Mostly to end the conversation I said, “Make a pumpkin pie.” I’m not even sure I had eaten pumpkin pie at this point. I liked apple pie and I had an elderly aunt who loved mincemeat pie. Mincemeat was absolutely suspicious in both name and texture and I had refused to taste it. At best, I had limited pie experience. That didn’t dissuade me. I had imagined that Halloween jack-o-lanterns were re-purposed into Thanksgiving pies, so the can of pureed pumpkin was a discovery. It wasn’t expensive. There was a recipe on the back of the can. It required pumpkin, eggs and spices. I had seen those small metal boxes of spices in the kitchen cabinets. If I could find the can opener, maybe I could pull this off. Our parents only allowed us to watch channel two, PBS in Boston, so my TV viewing was limited to Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Julia Child, who along with Sesame Street’s the Swedish Chef were my culinary reference points. They seemed to employ similar cooking techniques. Neither of them relied heavily on a recipe, and measuring the ingredients was secondary to dramatically flinging them into the bowl, followed by vigorous stirring. Most of all, they had fun. Julia’s food always looked inviting and she would have a drink of wine and look totally pleased at the end. Despite many of the ingredients not actually getting into the bowl, the Swedish Chef would emerge from clouds of flour with a cake or pie. I used the Julia Child/Swedish Chef method to make the pie. That is to say, I estimated rather than precisely measured the ingredients, flung them into the bowl and vigorously stirred. Unconcerned with the results, I had fun. When the pie came out of the oven, it was lightly browned and fragrant. The top was smooth with flecks of spices speckled throughout. It was magazine cover pretty. But I was a little worried about how it would taste. Our family had no pie carrier, so I covered my pie with Saran Wrap. I had to hold the pie on my lap for the whole ride. I was wedged between my two sisters, all of us bundled into good clothes and winter coats, strapped to a bench seat by seatbelts. The car was hot. The cigar smoke wafted into the back seats. My uncertainty about the taste of the pie was causing me anxiety. I bickered with my sisters who were crowding my pie. I studied the pie in my lap trying to divine its taste, when I noticed tiny droplets of water forming on the interior of the Saran wrap. I panicked. My pie would get ruined but if I took off the Saran Wrap my pie would taste like cigar smoke. I told my sisters to sit back while I hurried to unwrap the pie before the condensation fell. I pushed into them, as I complained and unwrapped, and my sister Janine finally had enough. She wound up and flung her fist across her side of the seat and into mine. I screamed. “She punched my pie!” Janine withdrew her knuckles from my pie which now had a fist shaped indentation. Janine and I both looked at the pie in shock. Punching or any type of misbehavior was totally out of character for her. She wedged back into her seat as my mother tried to mitigate the damage from the front of the car. I lost it in a way that only a verbose almost teen can. The car rocked with my vehemence. When I finally took a breath, Janine licked the pie filling off her fist. “It’s good.” While I was still mouthing off madness, some small part of my brain said, Hey, she likes my pie. I relaxed. My sisters and I huddled around the pie as we walked it into the grandparent’s house. We hid the pie under foil until we could use the miracle of spray whipped cream to hide the fist sized flaw. People ate the pie that day. At least the pie plate was empty when I tossed it in the back seat of the car on the way home. And I was relieved, grateful actually, that everything had turned out ok. This year, I am going to my sister Janine’s house for Thanksgiving. I am bringing a Maple Nutmeg pie which should taste pretty good because my baking techniques have matured. I am also bringing a can of spray whipped cream. Just in case.