Thanksgiving Dressing — My Family’s Secret Recipe

This part of my story is true. My mother had 5 sisters, and they had names that are not often heard anymore, except for one. Agnes, Gertrude, Myrtis, Gladys, and Beth. Yes, Beth — in the middle of what my brothers and I thought were funny names.

Our mother’s name was Becky, but not really. It was actually Bessie, but since she associated it with a neighbor’s cow named Bessie, she changed her name as soon as she got out of their little town in Georgia and went to college. All that part is true.

This part is embellished, but still mostly true. When these aunts of mine would come for Thanksgiving our house came alive with laughter, almost screeching, as these sisters really enjoyed each other. Not all of them came at the same time, but once four of them came and I remember them making the dressing for the turkey dinner we would have on Thanksgiving Day. I should add here that I was then and am still much more interested in the dressing than the turkey.

So the picture I have is of a big stockpot on our stove, where Aunt Gladys had crumbled the cornbread and then added some torn pieces of white bread or leftover biscuits. Then she added onions someone else had chopped and broth and then she mixed all this up until it was pretty soupy. Then they all began to jump in with the need for more salt, or more pepper, or sage, always more sage. They would stir and pretend to push each other out of the way, declaring it was too dry or about to become too soupy, and — more sage.

As a child I delighted in these adults teasing and laughing and talking so loudly, pretending to argue over who was doing the cooking after all. Someone realized no one had added eggs, which caused a roar and a rush to break and beat the eggs and add more sage, more salt, more broth — oh, throw in a little more white bread! Lots of cooks in the kitchen. One sister was not elbowing her way around the stove, instead, she sat by at the kitchen table playing the important role of bossing and providing social commentary.

I love that memory. The chaos was all the fun. Somehow my mother and my aunts knew it would all get done. They had cooked enough in their collective lives to trust the process and to welcome the silliness.

Already as I type my mind is thinking of objections to “trust the process.” Okay, okay. No proverb or pithy saying is one-size-fits-all. For now, I’m going to quiet that part of my mind and think about those wonderful women who knew that the process was at least as important as the outcome on that day. For that time they were free from the pride of know-how, and any ideas of someone being a chief cook. What a good recipe for so many things in our lives.

In so many ways Scripture speaks of being “set free.” Set free from things and attitudes that restrict our life — and our real joy. I think the secret sauce (the sage?) 🙂 for my aunts that day was their freedom to think of “us” instead of “me,” refusing to get anxious over things that really matter very little in exchange for laughter and love that I still remember after all these years.


Charme Robarts
Community Advocate

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