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Pondering a pandemic Thanksgiving holiday
LIKE MANY parents, Emily and Chasca are faced with many unusual challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents are having to figure out how to teach and work from home, and now, how to stay connected with family during the holidays while also keeping everyone safe and healthy.

RISING SUN - Not long now until we hunker down for a major holiday amid a pandemic. 

Today, I interviewed the owner of the Driftless Cafe in Viroqua and Wisconsin Foodie, Luke Zahm, about Thanksgiving and traditions through food. 

During the interview he took the wheel and asked me, “What do you do that is special for the holidays?” It made me pause for a moment and chuckle because for me holidays in my family are comforting because of the chaos. 

“Well, my family holiday meals are madness,” I told Luke. “I think the first time Chasca attended one he just kind of stood back in shock, and a touch of horror at what was being presented in front of him.”  

For my family all gathers fast and furious. We stack our Crock Pots in a lineup next to the roasted turkey in the Nesco. Shoving a plastic serving spoon in each and then it becomes a race to the finish line. We fill our plates and gobble down the delicious holiday meals before filling up our Tupperware containers to get the hell outta there and go home and gorge some more in the comforts of our own home.  

Chasca’s own family has a much more civilized Thanksgiving that involves tables and proper napkins and oyster stuffing. When I later attended his, I understood his shock. 

A lot of people are coming up with different ways to celebrate this year, in lieu of traditional gatherings. Although we have been invited, we have turned down any prospects of properly gathering outside of our household. And that’s okay. My dad might make a special guest appearance since he is considered part of our ‘pandemic pod’ and household since he watches our children one day week. Luckily for us, he is well versed in the hermit life and barely went anywhere before the pandemic and now even less so. 

One idea I’ve heard discussed that sounded intriguing is pulling a Thanksgiving dish Kickapoo switcheroo. Family and friends who live nearby all create their one specialty dish and scoop out a glob and bring it over to another person's doorstep. From there, they offer their socially distanced love and portion of food in exchange for some more socially distanced greetings and a different portion of food. In the end, you’ll be back home, feeling fulfilled both on your plate in and in your heart.  

We probably won’t go this elaborate for our feast. In fact, we will probably go about as generic as it gets. Green bean casserole, stuffing, and turkey.  Chasca will smoke the turkey and I might make the special stuffing that his grandpa makes, but the green bean casserole will be good old canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup. 

Because, as Luke pointed out to me as we talked, food memories don’t have to be highbrow and fancy. What is important is that they hit you right where you need to feel that comfort. 

And for me I guess, Campbell soup warmed up over some French Style green beans is what does it this holiday season. 

For him, it was good ole marshmallow salad. For which, I could tell by the tone in his voice, held a special place in his heart, because it was what his mom and grandma both made for their holidays. 

I think one of the biggest things we can take away from this all in 2020 is adapting. I feel like, although the holidays may feel lonely because we aren’t elbow to elbow at the dinner table with family far and wide, we can, as Luke put it, hold each other in the love and light of food. 

Creating and digging up our food memories is a comforting piece of the puzzle that is our lives in a pandemic. It is a safe piece. 

We can lay in bed and remember that one special dish our dearest Opa, Abba, Papa, Mama, Tia, Fetter or Friend had made for us tirelessly year after year that we always looked forward to and we can try our hand at it. 

Or, if we don’t have those special food memories, we can create them. We can start our own traditions that can be carried on through generations and  act as a trail maker in our life for when 2020 changed everything, but we managed to overcome and not let it steal our joy.  

I hope this time next week, everyone is fortunate enough to have a meal in front of them and the gratitude for your fortunes big and small to go with it. I hope you all are lucky and happy this holiday season. I also that you are able to make choices with the health of yourself and your community in mind, for we make these hard choices now to make sure we can all gather together safely in the future, without an empty seat at the table.