To Each His Own Turkey Dressing

'Tis the season of good cheer, sweet surprises, and charming customs. In my family, one tradition inspires us to raise our voices in unison: the dispute over whether to have wet or dry dressing with the holiday turkey.

I clearly recall my grandfather Daddaddy holding court in the dining room, rhapsodizing with great eloquence on the subject of his mother's feathery dressing (a glance at the broth pot was all the moisture it contained) as he expertly carved the gigantic bird that Gommy had lovingly stuffed - with wet dressing, of course, as her mother had done before her.

In my dad's family, the dressing and wit were dry in the extreme, and my mom came to appreciate the subtleties of both. But she adhered strictly to the adage "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," as well as its expanded version: "When the Romans are visiting us, do as the Romans do and for heaven's sake be quiet about it."

When it was our turn to host the dinner, the consistency of our turkey dressing depended solely upon which side of the family was visiting.

Years when the relatives stayed home, we sometimes joined our extended family for potluck galas that featured the best of each family's time-honored recipes. My godmother, who was from Texas, crumbled corn bread into her stuffing, a crunchy addition unthinkable to some relatives and intriguing to others. She and Mom never agreed on how to salt the turkey, but their dry-dressing collaboration was positively symbiotic.

When the holidays were celebrated with only the immediate family, my visiting brother tried to raise his status to the level of out-of-town guest and thereby earn the dressing of his choice. He alone had acquired a taste for wet dressing.

As the day approached, our mom would start her list. Her pad, pencil, and look of determination elicited silliness and sarcasm all around, but one learned to be wary of family members who showed no interest in pie flavors or seating arrangements. Ambivalence could easily be mistaken for amiability; acquiescence on the subject of cranberry sauce versus jelly was suspect. More than once I was tricked by my merry generosity. "Since Suz decided on the creamed onions, I get to decide on the dressing: wet." Worse yet, our fair-minded mother thought this argument was perfectly sensible.

I am strictly a dry-dressing hound. It has always seemed that "dry dressing plus gravy equals wet dressing" is an equation that the whole family can live with. This apparently misinformed attempt at compromise and harmony fills wet-dressing lovers with contempt.

If my husband has an opinion about turkey dressing, he has wisely kept it to himself. As we raise our daughter and establish our own family fortress of traditions, I like to think of dry dressing as a cornerstone. But in memory of my mother, I can be flexible. So when my brother comes for the holiday gathering, I plan to serve exactly what he wants:


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