Friday, January 25, 2013
Our home was always the site for our family Thanksgiving dinners. That was because my mom was the best cook, by far (great, actually), and no one wanted to go to anyone else’s home. So, we stayed home and hosted the other seven members of the family. My maternal grandparents, my aunt and uncle and their three kids. My sister and I were the young ones in the group, as our maternal cousins were all older than me.
Anyway, mother would bake and bake and bake for a week or so before Thanksgiving, as she considered it the beginning of the Christmas season. Never mind that she was not a Christian. She just liked the season. Anyway, there was always a minimum of 12 different kinds of cookies ready on Thanksgiving day.
Of course, the turkey always took front and center. I do not remember ever helping mom with the turkey. It just sort of magically appeared on the counter in the afternoon, fully cooked. I know mom cooked it. I just do not remember the process. Strange!
Mom always made dressing and stuffing. Simple, plain, and the same recipe for both. I never liked the stuffing because it was too wet for me. To this day, I prefer dressing – crisp, savory, and filled with goodies. Mom always had mashed potatoes (from scratch), caramelized carrots and dill, cranberry sauce (not homemade), fresh rolls (homemade), celery sticks with peanut butter or cream cheese; a nice salad, a variety of pickles and olives. There was always pumpkin pie and pecan pie. And vanilla ice cream. Oh, and homemade gravy. YUM!
Uncle Roy always carved the turkey. He was a Navy cook in WWII, and was a butcher before that, so he really knew how to carve a turkey. Even when he had “a bit much to drink.” There was never even the tiniest piece of turkey left on any bones at all once Uncle Roy was done with the bird.
My dad always spent the early part of Thanksgiving out in the garage, making sure it was clean, neat, and presentable. Invariably, once Uncle Roy and Aunt Marge arrived, the gentlemen would gravitate to the garage to discuss plans or whatever. I was never part of those discussion, but they seemed to enjoy them! Grandpa joined them once he and Grandma arrived.
Us ladies generally stayed inside and enjoyed each other, baked things, made sure the table was presentable, and set up the “take home” bags. Of course, we all got into the cookie cans, and were never terribly hungry for the fabulous dinner.
I do not remember anyone bringing anything to Thanksgiving dinner except themselves. Perhaps some sodas or the like.
Grandma, after I turned eight years old, and had my piano in my room, would aways ask me to play the piano for a few minutes. I liked that, as she was the only one who ever asked (other than my teacher) for me to play, just for her. I am glad of that.
We all sat down at the dinner table, with all things served family style. We used mom’s best china and glassware, and the linen cloth was on the table. We chattered, ate, chattered some more, told stories, finally cleared the table, and an hour of so later, served desert at the same table.
By about 5 or PM, my grandparents would leave for home, and then an hour or so later, my aunt and uncle and cousins left for home. We always knew that Uncle Roy would eat their leftovers first thing in the morning. That made my mom happy!
This annual event was always a nice one, from my point of view. Generally, everyone was in good spirits and enjoyed themselves. My cousins were particularly fun to be around.
Speaking of which, one time, in the late 1960’s, but before my cousin Richard left for Viet Nam, his parents told him to not come to the dinner until they called him and told him that everyone else was done. When he came over, he ate EVERYTHING LEFT OVER! In no time flat. There were no left-overs that year!
Then there was the year that cousin, Colleen, came down with mononucleosis the day before Thanksgiving. Her mom, my aunt, was a registered nurse, and we all knew that this was a dangerous condition. That was the only Thanksgiving that all eleven of us were not together, at least until we moved to Kentucky in 1970.
The kinds of cookies that mom and we made included: toll house chocolate chip, Missouri cookies (no bake), thumbprints, Mexican wedding cake; date oatmeal wafers, cream wafers, crunchy drops and the like. She also made fudge, divinity, and a cherry divinity sort of candy.
Needless to say, we were well and truly fed!
The last Thanksgiving that I spent with my parents was when my eldest daughter was two. They were living in Yucaipa, CA by that time and had lived there for some years. All of us were together at that event, except for Cousin Richard, who was no longer alive. We had twelve present at that dinner. It was the same as always. Same foods. Same discussions. Same dishes, silverware and linens. Just a different house. After that, my life changed, and I did not spend any more Thanksgivings with the family. I regret that.