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November 21, 2007
I'll be bringing my signature dish, was all the message on the answering machine said. The voice was familiar, but the open-endedness of the message made it difficult to plan. I called back.

Well, if you don't know what my signature dish is, I'm certainly not going to tell you. This, from a person whose grown children still remember the flair with which she could open a can of frozen orange juice.

You're amazing, I often tell her. I don't know how you do it.

It's nothing, really,
she always says, and that is certainly true.

Bring your signature dish, I told Chris, who lives in a very small apartment.

Are you sure? he wrote back. Ramen Tuna Casserole? I suppose he could always forge somebody else's signature.

Buddy was unnerved by the signature dish thing, I could tell. He is still living down a cake he brought over once: he had ordered it with a geranium on top and it arrived festooned with malignant sprays of icing roses in a lurid red. I think his signature dish may be a bottle of wine.

Gordon's signature dish is Sweet Potatoes Cooked with Bacon, his beloved tells me.

But I've never made that, he protests.

Well, you showed me the recipe in the Times and said it looked good. This is a good example of what has happened to people's signature dishes in these evil days: a wholesale inflation of that term has lowered the bar right down to the floor.

Do people know how many are coming? Anna asked. You need to let them know so they can adjust their quantities. This was a good point. I am not sure that I know how many are coming myself, and I am the hostess. Anna's signature dish is mashed potatoes and dressing and something else. I must call and find out what. I will make my signature dinner rolls in the morning, I guess. There's certainly no rush.

My granddaughters have arrived to begin making their signature applesauce and signature cranberry sauce and signature pies, as they have done since they were tiny girls. This could be the last time we do this baking together: Rosie is getting married in exactly a month, and will be in her own kitchen in California at this time next year. My little Rosie, married! How this can be, I'm sure I don't know. I know less and less as time goes by.

Thus we ease toward Thanksgiving Day, funny and a little bit sad, as it always is. The feasts are milestones, measuring out our life span. They comfort us with the sameness upon which we insist, and then they toss something brand new smack into the middle of the table. That doesn't belong there! we say, annoyed. But there it is and there it stays, that new thing: the new thing in old history, the signature dish of time.
Barbara Crafton will preach at noon tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metuchen NJ.
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