Not Yams


–A Thanksgiving Screed–

It’s late Wednesday afternoon when my father finally breaks away from his practice and comes home to load our big white Chevy wagon for the trip across the state to Idaho. Dogs and shotguns stacked in the back for bird hunting Thanksgiving morning, pastries and coffee cakes Mom baked and wrapped stowed safely away from the dogs, and coloring books for my brother and me during the 400 mile trek over the Cascades, across the high desert, twisting through icy passes in the Malheur, until finally crossing the Snake River and up Olds Ferry Road to my grandparents’ place.

Dad’s clan gathered in the drafty farm grange surrounded by fallow disked fields under light snowfall. Women brought covered dishes and converged to carve three or four turkeys. I snitched black olives from the relish bowl and stuck one on each finger. The food was cold, at best lukewarm. The turkey was stringy and parched, mashed potatoes congealed, and green beans boiled with bacon for hours took on the flavor of the bleak November sky. The women did their best, I know now and understand, with what they had in that rustic grange hall.

The important thing, Mom said, was family and yes, I had to wear a dress until dinner was over, and yes, I must try everything and not just butter a roll for a turkey and pickle sandwich. (The Jell-O salad with fruit cocktail and swirled Cool Whip was palatable.) The worst dish, nastier than gelatinous dressing and greasy gravy, was the platter of sticky yams coated in marshmallows.

Eating a cloying yam, a sickly sweet potato, the stringy fibers of an acorn squash, was a feat too far. The taste of orange mealy vegetables made me gag as surely as the trip over the mountains made me car sick. Butter, brown sugar, and marshmallow are for fools. I was not so easily deceived. Yams are the bottom of the fodder rainbow and better left to beasts. Try it, Mom hissed, but I gagged over my plate and she lifted me up by one arm and hustled me away from the table.

Carving pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns made me retch, reaching down the stinking cavity into a sticky web of seeds smelt of dying earth. Even pumpkin pie, dressed with cream and spice, tastes of swampy rotting entrails. Roasted carrots coated with honey and sesame seed served by loving friends are a problem. I toy during conversation to discreetly hide them under a stray rib of romaine.

“Eat the rainbow,” nutritionists counsel, so I slug down a shot glass of carrot juice every morning and call it good. Autumn markets showcase brimming bins of orange squashes and tubers so I give them wide berth. Cooking magazines displayed at checkout feature glossy butternut and patty pan recipes and I can’t swallow. I look away instead and read the headlines of the tabloids featuring the latest dish on Harry and Meghan.

Author: Kim K. McCrea

Kim K. McCrea earned her BA in English before embarking on a career in technology and public service. Kim won Oregon Writers Colony 2018 essay award, Treefort’s 2017 Wild West Writing Prize, and was named runner-up in Cutbank 2018 Big Sky/Small Prose contest. Her creative nonfiction is featured in Cutbank, Tishman Review, Cagibi, and elsewhere; she is the author of the novel Pandora's Last Gift. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Kim lives in Oregon, where she studies the moon and stars and wanders with her Labrador in the rain.

11 thoughts on “Not Yams”

  1. Turmeric, woman! Get your orange there! I loved the line about the green beans taking on the color of the bleak November sky. Gosh, isn’t its own brand of bleakness…not just November-wise, but living out here? I love it. You have to embrace that or it will crush you, as well you know. Thanks for this heaping portion of goodness from yours to ours Kim!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It was a revelation for me to have sweet potatoes cooked by a grad student in the UW ceramics department decades ago. Beth had traveled for months through the far east, working from Hawaii to Tokyo to Thailand, Burma, Tibet, and Afghanistan. She traveled all alone, used local transportation, slept in hostels. She stayed in an Indian temple and helped prepare for a feast day—they took a shine to her, she said, because she was alone and had pierced ears, wore sandals and Indian cotton, and she knew her way around food, so they allowed her to stay beyond the usual time limit. Beth was an amazing, open, kind-hearted person. They probably noticed.

    Her sweet potatoes had fresh chopped pineapple (or perhaps caramelized onion?) and a thin top coating of honey, ghee, and several kinds of seeds—a translucent, gold crackly crust. I have not eaten a marshmallow topping since. Her more savory version permanently spoiled me. I make twice-baked sweets or russets.

    Beth ate local food everywhere, but became ill (diagnosed food poisoning) in Kashmir. By the time she got to Kabul, a doctor told her she could eat only white bread and egg whites. She flew from there to London and experienced culture shock, but gained back the 30 pounds she’d lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was so unexpected. I envision a nature goddess eating only vegetables grown in her own garden and baked in a wood stove. My sister-in-law’s carrot/tomato soup with a jar and a half of honey mixed in does it to me. Quite gag-worthy.

    Liked by 1 person

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