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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Of sage and saging

Today is Thanksgiving, here in the U.S., a day we give thanks for the bounty in our lives. More cynically, it commemorates our early congress with Native Americans: they gave us corn and we gave them smallpox. It is one of the better holidays we celebrate here and in my memory it always starts with waking up to the smell of sage.

Our mother made the best  dressing in the world. It was buttery, dotted with onions chopped infinitesimally small so that none of us kids would recognize and reject them, celery, and enough sage folded into the hand-torn torn bread (no cubes for us) to make us remember it all year. One of the best things was testing for sage. As mom was putting it all together in the big black skillet, she'd would call us into the kitchen -- there were six of us kids -- and ask, "Does this have enough sage?" We'd each get to try a bite. I always told her "no" so I could have another taste after she added more, and I suspect my siblings did as well. And then we'd watch as she stuffed the big gruesome bird and staggered with it to the oven.

Later when we had our own homes the recipe began to change. Suzy added mushrooms and walnuts. I adopted her changes but added bulk sausage which introduced even more sage. Pete even made a stuffing with feta cheese one time. Nancy, more of a family purist, would say, "Please just make it the way mom did!"

As I've wandered in and out of various spiritual journeys, I've  adopted other ways to use sage, especially in cleansing ceremonies. I'm not sure what the reaction between negative energies and burning sage is, but I know it makes me feel safer and closer to the times when humans first threw dry leaves onto their fires and discovered their sweet and bitter aromatics. One friend tells me that the burning of sage helps us wash off the world before we enter sacred space.

Today when you are making dinner, sprinkle a little sage on the burner, for what is Thanksgiving but a sacred space in the year, a time we celebrate what and who we have? I'll be remembering my childhood today and be thankful that memory is so tenacious that I can clearly see the parents and sisters I've lost, and the brothers and sister I still have. We think we only remember in words and pictures, but there is a primal connection between whiffs of smell and episodic memory. Today in  my kitchen, I'll be breathing deep into the jar of sage and sprinkling some on the burner to summon the memories I cherish and keep at bay whatever was not love.

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  1. That was beautiful and smelled sacred.

  2. Thanks, Helen. It felt that way writing it!

  3. Funny that we didn't have that same sacred connection to my feta dressing. This was never repeated. I follow all of your memories in lock step and always add the image of Dad floating into the kitchen and hugging Mom while singing. We probably thought it was corny but we were truly blessed by all of it - especially the sage.

  4. Thanks, Pete. We're probably the only kids of our generation who can sing "Racing with the Moon." We really were blessed and mainly knew it -- otherwise our favorite treat wouldn't have been faking illnesses and staying home with mom :)