Day 2: The worst Thanksgiving dish you ever had

This post is part two of The 642 Project.

Here’s the thing about cheese balls: they’re kind of gross. Even still, I’ll put a bowl of them on every Thanksgiving table I ever set.

A cheese ball is mostly a golf ball-sized lump of cream cheese rolled in walnuts. I tried one last year, maybe for the first time. I like both of those ingredients very much, but no good can come from putting them together in those quantities.

Most years, Aunt Denise makes them, and Poppy eats them.

Despite my general distaste, this weird, all-American appetizer, no doubt a throwback to the days of meat-filled Jello molds and recipes that call for both mayonnaise and gelatin, fills me with nostalgia.

Sometimes I’ll see them somewhere else; pre-packaged behind a supermarket deli counter in the days before a holiday, or laid out in a suburban Superbowl spread. Every time, I wonder who but Poppy could possibly enjoy such an ill-conceived snack. And then, every time, the Thanksgiving slideshow starts flipping by in my head.


Maybe I was ten the year Gran forgot to turn on the oven before she went out for the day. Somewhere there exists a photo of the two of us in the backyard, hunched conspiratorially over the recycling bin, hastily stashing the evidence of Acme’s last pre-cooked, pre-carved turkey.


I was 13, and “What are you thankful for?” made its way around the table too quickly, before I’d had time to think. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my brain. “Words. I’m thankful for all the words I know.” I still am.


I was 16. We had Christmas on Thanksgiving instead, because time was running out and we just needed one more.


17. Thanksgiving at Aunt Kim’s, because no one could bear the empty chair at Poppy’s house.


Living in Rome at 19, homesick and determined to have Thanksgiving, I scoured the entire city for a turkey. The man who finally sold me my 31 pound bird – neck, guts and feet intact – laughed and laughed as I cradled it like a baby and waddled toward the metro. While it roasted slow and steady in my tiny oven, I called home on Skype and rolled cream cheese into spheres.

Thanksgiving, for me, heals all wounds. It just feels like finally going home, no matter how often I see the people sitting around the table. In the difficult years, I think over and over, “Just make it to Thanksgiving.” And I always do. And then it’s okay. And I’m thankful for that.