Ann Cannon: Jell-O salads, mothers and other Thanksgiving blessings

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Thanksgiving was never an intimate affair for our family when I was growing up.

There were always lots of people present. Lots and lots of people.

When we did Thanksgiving with my dad's side of the family, his sisters reserved a church or some other public space with a huge kitchen because there were so many of us. My dad was one of 14 kids, which eventually translated into many aunts and uncles and also a truckload of cousins. We were like a great big blue-collar Kennedy family, except instead of playing tackle football together at Hyannis Port, we chased each other around and jumped out of trees in a Utah County park. Also, we weren't rich. And also we didn't drop our "r's."

But other than that? Yes. We were exactly like the Kennedys.

My mother, on the other hand, was an only child who grew up in Wyoming. You would think this would translate into a smaller crowd on Thanksgiving when we partied with her side of the family. But you would be wrong.

That's because my parents always invited college kids, their dates, their roommates and their roommates' dates to eat with us if they couldn't go home for the holiday. They also invited my dad's co-workers from the university to join us, too, if they needed a place to land. My mother would set up extra card tables in the living room and then prepare vast quantities of turkey, dressing, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, coleslaw, homemade rolls and (wait for it) Jell-O salad.

M-m-m-m-m-m! Jell-O salad! Because who doesn't love a "salad" that actually tastes like "dessert"?

Also there was pie involved. Lots and lots of pie. If Ernest Hemingway were to describe my mother's pie, he would have said it was good. It was a good pie. And it is a good thing to have good pie when you are young and living in Paris. Except we weren't living in Paris. We were living in Provo. And it was raining.

How did I like sharing Thanksgiving with all those college kids when I was younger? I didn't. Not really. It's a strange experience to feel shy and tongue-tied in your own home, but that's how I felt. It was interesting to hear people's stories, of course — like the stories told by a kid who'd grown up in Western Samoa, the son of a prominent chief. But mostly I yearned for dinners with people I already knew and who would still be in my life the next day.

Eventually I grew up (sort of) and established a home of my own where I have often enjoyed the kind of Thanksgiving holiday I used to dream about when I was younger. Smaller. More intimate. And they have been tender occasions with football and food and familiar dear ones at the table.

And yet, curiously, as I count my blessings this week, I find that I am grateful for my parents' open-handed generosity at all times, but particularly on Thanksgiving Day — especially my mother's. She pretty much pulled off those feasts at our house on her own. For sure I wasn't much of a helper — which is why whenever I tell my parents now that I can't remember where things go in their kitchen, they tell me I never knew in the first place. And they're probably right.

But whatever. The point is this: Whenever I get the chance these days I want to tell my parents how much I value their example in all kinds of ways. Even if I haven't always followed it. —

Patti's Thanksgiving Jell-O Salad

2 (3-ounce) packages of raspberry-flavored gelatin

2 cups boiling water

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice

1 (15-ounce) can blueberries with juice

1 pint whipping cream (whipped)

2 sliced bananas

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add cream cheese, pineapple with juice and blueberries with juice. Fold in ½ pint whipped cream. Pour into a 6-cup mold and chill until set. Top with the rest of the whipped cream and sliced banana and get your fancy on.