Dear FAR readers—you will be reading this blog the day after Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays. It didn’t used to be—but it is now.
Over twenty years ago, I remade this holiday for myself. At that time I was in my late thirties and was just coming out of almost a decade of healing from a very rough childhood. I spent a lot of time in those early recovery years yearning for some kind of magical “family” I thought “everyone” had. Once I really opened up about my story, however, I realized everyone doesn’t have any one thing. We all have something different—and everyone has a story.
I decided to create a ritual—I didn’t intend for it to turn into a tradition, but it did.
I decided one year to bake pies. A friend of mine, Lisa (you can see her in the photo essay that accompanies this blog), came over after I extended an invite for us to “bake some pies” for Thanksgiving.
We got started baking that year and we kept baking and baking…and…baking. It was fun. It was therapeutic and it was—a bit crazy! I had a tiny studio, in an old-fashioned SoCal apartment building, with the units around a pool. My unit was next to the pool with the stairs going out front of my unit to the patio level above.
Lisa and I kept baking pies and putting them on the steps outside my door to cool. We realized late, late into the night—we had baked over seventeen pies and we had reached the second level of the building, and were out of steps!
That’s when we stopped. I don’t remember now if it was because we ran out of flour—or steps to use as cooling racks.
Well– somehow that became a thing. We did it the next year— it was still fun. Other friends came and helped, different people, but always Lisa and I as well.
At the end of the cooking we got into the habit of making what I called “a French meal”—apple pie (green apple pie with golden raisin reduction—all the same pie) with cheddar cheese under the crust melting and a salad. We would eat this Thanksgiving meal with friends who helped, who just came by for the meal, or to get a pie in later years because they’d tried it and loved it. At the end of the meal we would tell fortunes with Turkish coffees.
We only cooked those pies once a year and they became—a tradition. The pie making day has ritual to it—and every since that first year we make as many pies as we can—always over 15, and all the same kind, and we always end the day with pie and cheese and salad. ..and fortunes…and gratitude.
Thanksgiving day Lisa would take a pie to her biological family celebration and I would take a pie to whatever tribal family celebration I was going to. We became very well known for those pies.
Now over twenty years later my wife helps cook. Kimberly can also be seen in the photos. She even made a spreadsheet for us last year of our ingredients.
Friends come over and help us cook, or cut apples, or bring us lunch (last year corned beef sandwiches from a favorite deli.)
And about ten years ago my wife and I tried another party—a Friday After Thanksgiving party. It also stuck and became known as our “Notorious F. A. T. Party– which is charades, turkey carcass soup—and of course pie. That has become a tradition ten years later, with prizes and friends looking forward to it, and bringing folks.
This year on the actual day of Thanksgiving I’ll be serving food to the residents of Triangle Square, the U.S.’s first gay elder home where I have friends and people who I interviewed for my book, and then eating with those friends and showing them some footage from a film Kim and I are working on that they are in.
Those three days are a real treat for me—a real holiday I have created that I don’t need to feel “bad” about it—like it is “not enough”—because it is not like what I imagine “everyone else” has. And I’ve tried to do this with the other holidays, as well, and most times—it works—creating rituals for myself. Sometimes they are long standing and become traditions, sometimes they are brand new and last one year. But, they are mine.
“Family” is not what we are born into. Family is what we make. Family is a verb. It’s been amazing for me to create that so far through this long and fabulous life.
I wish you many things to be grateful for this year, FAR family.
May we always be able to have the “…serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
And pie. May we always have pie.
All photos by Kimberly Esslinger
Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.