A pandemic Thanksgiving
and author Irene I. Blea
By Christina Stock
This week’s Thanksgiving will be one to remember, how is up to every family and person. You might have loved ones in the retirement home you can’t get to; you might have family out of reach because you don’t live together and you follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control to social distance. Some things are out of our hands. But, you can choose how you behave toward the loved ones you are missing or the ones you are living with, especially when there are children. Believe it or not, but one day these children, all grown, will look back and think of the time of the pandemic as one of their favorite memories of childhood. You, the reader, may think, what does this editor know? I do know, from others who were children in dark times and from personal experience.
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If you have followed my column, you might know already some history of my diverse family, and here is one example on how I learned to be thankful, even when facing a dire situation, not knowing what will happen.
My family had been ripped apart before, during and after World War II, having smuggled a sister and her Jewish husband out of Nazi-Germany, on top of that, having lost four brothers at the battle for Stalingrad and my grandmother’s husband, my grandfather, had been thrown as canon fodder toward the Red Army of the Soviets — it is a miracle that my grandmother survived. Her brothers and her husband had been able to bribe an SS officer until 1944 to not have to join the crazy war that Hitler started. When found out, they were sent with barely any preparation into the midst of the most brutal part of the war out of revenge.
My grandfather survived the long trek from the Soviet Union on foot back to Germany, after he got a shrapnel in his skull on his first day on the front.
The family had been prepared for the possibility that they would be found out and had agreed for any survivors to meet in the small town of Meiningen. The women left Breslau, together with all civilians in the midst of winter, Jan. 19, 1945, leaving behind children who had been too young to fight in the Army, but old enough to be Hitler Youth, from ages 12 to 15 and men who had been too old to be drafted and were over 70. Hitler had declared the city to be a fortress and to defend it at all costs. My grandmother said that the children and older men had volunteered to stay behind and fight, to keep the Soviet Army from pursuing the women’s and children’s trek.
The rumor of atrocities committed by Soviet soldiers against civilians on their march toward Breslau had reached the city earlier. What she didn’t know, others became “volunteers,” which included prisoners rerouted from concentration camps, from France and the Netherlands. The Siege of Breslau, as it became known, turned into urban warfare, or rather street fighting from house to house, block to block for three months until the fall of the city. Most of the “volunteers” died in the crossfire.
The civilians on the trek didn’t fare much better. Many thousands died, frozen where they fell along the snow and ice-covered road. The survivors who reached the next city, Dresden, were to survive only a few weeks when the bombardment of Dresden caused the first fire tornado in warfare. The fires were burning so hot, turning into a twisted pillar and sucking all oxygen up and out of the city. Many died in the fires, most suffocated.
My family survived due to their plans and having been prepared wearing everything they owned in multitudes of layers; they continued on after reaching Dresden toward Meiningen to wait for any other survivors. Only my grandfather made it and was united with his family and my 3-year-old mother. Meiningen, after the war ended, belonged to West Germany, until a trade was made and overnight it came under the control of the Soviet Union.
Not wanting to live in a communist regime, that very same night, my grandparents with my 5-year-old mother and newborn baby, my aunt, left everything behind and escaped further into West Germany.
This is where my mother’s memory picks up. She told me that she doesn’t remember being poor, a refuge in her own country. She said her memories are of laughter, the meadows and forest, and playing with her best friend in the shadow of the ruins of a castle. Later in Wiesbaden, Germany, where the family found a new home, my mom said that she never knew that she was poor until she was much older. She remembered on Christmas receiving a care package from the U.S. with real chocolate. She had never tasted chocolate before in her life. My grandmother would stretch every penny to make sure that the family had the best holidays, though not Thanksgiving, that is a typical American holiday after all. One of my grandmother’s favorite recipes was a holiday pork roast. Beef was impossible to buy for the struggling family.
In honor of those challenges that my grandmother overcame, I’ll share my twist on pork, which includes the use of a modern air fryer. Oh, my grandmother would not like this one. She liked to chat and an air fryer needs attention, or the food is ruined.
Air fried holiday pork
tenderloin with kiwi salsa
Serves 2-4 people
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 crushed garlic cloves
1/2 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
Pork tenderloin (1 to 1.5 lbs)
1/2 cup honey mustard salad dressing
3-4 ripe kiwi fruit, peeled, carefully chopped
1/2 red jalapeño, chopped
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
2 finely sliced green onions
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
The day before, mix all ingredients of the marinade in a large resealable plastic bag. Trim the excess fat/silver skin from the pork tenderloin and pierce the loin with a fork evenly every 2 inches. Put the tenderloin into the bag and keep refrigerated overnight.
The next day, remove the tenderloin from the bag, discard the marinade, including garlic and onion.
Preheat your air fryer to 400F. Place the tenderloin in the greased basket of the air fryer. Air fry at 400F for 20 to 26 minutes, flipping the tenderloin every five minutes to get an even crust. Every time you flip the tenderloin, baste it with the honey mustard salad dressing.
When your meat thermometer shows that the pork tenderloin reaches an inside-temperature of 145F, remove the tenderloin and let it rest for five minutes before slicing it.
You can mix the kiwi salsa a day before, that way the flavors blend. Instead of vinegar you may use lime juice.
Serve with your favorite sides.
Books for comfort:
Today, I introduce you to New Mexico native author Irene I. Blea. In an email Blea talked about her background and books. “I am writing fictionalized family history, rooted firmly in the history of Hispanic women of the state. Most prominent of my recent work is “Daughters of the West Mesa” based on the true story of the discovery of 11 female remains and an unborn fetus discovered in the desert west of Albuquerque.”
Blea has a PhD in sociology from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her biography shows a large body of work: “Blea is the author of seven sociology textbooks on race, class and gender relations, over 30 academic articles, four poetry chapbooks and four novels. Her most recent novel, ‘Beneath the Super Moon’ has been received with great success and is the third in her Suzanna trilogy. The first two books are titled ‘Suzanna’ and ‘Poor People’s Flowers.’ Her novel, ‘Daughters of the West Mesa,’ is based on the discovery of 11 female remains and an unborn fetus found buried west of Albuquerque and was selected Best of Albuquerque in 2015 by ABQ the Magazine.
It has been instrumental in keeping the unsolved serial killing in the public eye. Sales of the book continue to increase because of the nature of its subject, world interest in preventing sexual trafficking, and Blea’s ability to tell a story. She writes daily, maintains a strong online presence via a blog, Facebook, and is a featured speaker at conferences, universities and annual meetings. Her work in progress is her autobiography, ‘Erené with Wolf Medicine,’ in which she traces her family’s migration from the northern mountains of New Mexico to Colorado in the 1950s.
“Today, Blea lives in Albuquerque and is a New Mexico Humanities Council scholar. She retired as a tenured, full professor and chairperson of Mexican American Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, but also taught at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in the 1990s and Metropolitan State College, Denver, in the 1980s. Her academic career has several notable accomplishments. One of which is that two of her textbooks, ‘Toward a Chicano Social Science’ and ‘La Chicana are classics in her field. Blea was the first female chairperson of the National Association of Chicano Studies, a regional representative to that organization from the states of Colorado and New Mexico, and is referred to as ‘the Xicana novelist of these times.’ by Beva Sanchez-Padilla of the Southwest Organizing Project and a World March of Women organizer.”
Blea’s roots in New Mexico go deep, her great-grandfather having been the last child born in the Native American pueblo of Taos. She is fluent in Spanish and English and has six siblings. She easily slips into different writing styles, one being purely academic nonfiction, the other as literary semi-fictional or even poetic. All her work shows a deep respect and even care for people of all walks of life.
Blea’s books are available as eBook and paperback at most bookstores online. For more information, follow her on Facebook @irene.blea.