We are now well into the midst of Holiday Season. You know how quickly they all get here once fall begins. We start off with Halloween then merge into Thanksgiving and culminate with Christmas. My very favorite holiday of all is Thanksgiving. I have so many warm and fuzzy memories all tied up with that day. For our family it was just like the one pictured by the late, great Norman Rockwell in his Thanksgiving portraits. Well, sort of. When I was a kid it was almost sensory overload. I’m sure there were smaller, family only gatherings (seems like I remember a thanksgiving dinner of quail at Ruthie and Sam’s, but that might be another holiday) but mostly I remember large extended family gatherings. A typical dinner had at least 25 – 30 people. There would be actual blood family, extended family, friends and guests (people who didn’t fall into one of the other categories). If you didn’t have someplace to be that day, you were expected to join us.
In fact, one of the more memorable Thanksgiving Dinners included a woman no one knew. To this day, we have no idea who she was nor who brought her. She was an older woman and quite pleasant. I don’t remember that she brought anything, but maybe she did we didn’t notice because it was always chaos in the kitchen. She visited, ate, cleaned up, visited some more and just generally fit right in with the rest of us. Then poof, she was gone. It wasn’t until someone asked where “that lady” was that we realized no one had seen her in a while. Now our house was a big house, but not so big people could get lost in it. No one acknowledged taking her home and after much “Didn’t you bring her?” “No, I thought you brought her” “What was her name?” “I thought you knew her” we found out that NO ONE knew who she was, where she came from or where she went. Cue the spooky music.
Like everyone else, our family had certain traditions. There was the Oh My Goodness! We Will Never Have Everything Ready freak out of Mother. She would roust us out of bed about 5:00 in the morning to start a frenzied cleaning, dusting, waxing, ironing and silver polishing. And then we would start on the actual food making. From my earliest memory Laura and I sat watching the parades while polishing silver. Eventually we didn’t get to watch the parades because we were big enough to work on other stuff besides silver. In fact, it wasn’t until I got married that I actually got to watch a parade (granted, I caught lots of flack when I got there for being late so I never did that again). The smell of Johnson’s Paste Wax (for the floor) and bees wax (for the dining table) is as much a Thanksgiving smell as turkey to me.
Now lest you think it was all women’s work, Daddy and the boys had their own jobs to do. They got to lug around chairs and any heavy cooking paraphernalia. And they were in charge of making sure the outside looked as nice as the inside. Even though no one (other than strangers) used the front door, the front porch and yard had to be inviting. Family cars (we always had at least two extra for some reason) had to be moved to make room for the invading hordes. The red wagon had to be ready for bringing in food stuffs as they were unloaded from said vehicles. We knew that the outside work was just about done when we heard the unmistakable sound of the patio being raked. Yes, raked. Daddy never did anything the easy way. Granted this was before leaf blowers, but why use a broom to remove leaves when there was a yard rake handy. Besides, the sound let us know that his martyrdom had begun.
Speaking of martyrs, more family lore. One year, after the raking of the patio, Daddy made the mistake of coming in and sitting down to watch a ball game. You would have thought he knew better. I’m not really sure what Mother said, but I’m sure it was said in very gentle tones (ha!), something in the line of cleaning up the bedroom since their bathroom would also be in use. After a while Mother sent one of us to find him since he had not been seen since he had been given his instructions. He was in the bedroom HANGING UP HIS SOCKS. I mean, using clothes pins and hanging his sock on hangers and putting them in the closet. Mother had told him to clean up and that is what he was doing it, damn it! Did I mention my father was a martyr?
Finally, it was time to eat. Oh. Dear. Lord. What a spread. My grandmother, Ruthie always did the turkey and dressing. She was the best. The turkey was always perfect and the dressing the best ever. (Laura now claims that title). There were huge pans of dressing and the biggest turkey she could find. In addition there was always: pork backbone and noodles, ham, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn, green beans, lima beans, field peas, green peas, greens, jelled and whole berry cranberry sauce, salad, fruit salad, jello (plain & with fruit) and assorted breads and rolls. For desert there was: apple pie, chocolate pie, cherry pie, pumpkin pie, butterscotch pie, pecan pie, mincemeat pie, cookies, and a cake or two. There would always be an added something different each year. One year I brought hominy I had made (yes, from scratch!) and one year Laura made a celery dish using Martha Washington’s recipe she had found somewhere. One year someone (I’m pretty sure it was Doris Wilson) brought the most disgusting looking Pink Stuff. To this day I have no idea what it was supposed to be, but it looked like a fungus from outer space. But by golly, you had to have a bite whether you wanted to or not.
So this brings up the big dressing vs stuffing debate. I was raised on CORNBREAD dressing. That was made from CORNBREAD. Not some of this stuff called cornbread dressing that is really bread dressing with some cornbread thrown in. No, no, no. That is not cornbread dressing. Not sure what it is, but it is not cornbread dressing. Dressing is supposed to have cornbread (homemade not from a box), onion, celery, eggs, broth, salt, pepper and sage. Oh, and lots of butter. No oysters. No chestnuts. And no livers! Mother had some dear friends that joined us one year. They were from the north somewhere. Way north, like New England maybe. They wanted to bring the stuffing. Please note the term used. Laura and I were horrified. What! No dressing? Stuffing? I must say it was lovely and it was lovely for her to bring it. I ate some. It was not easy. Fortunately, my favorite sister in the whole world knew what to do. Hidden in her car was a huge pan of beautiful, wonderful cornbread dressing! Thanksgiving was saved.
Now I don’t know how other families spend the rest of the day after the feast, but we played games. There would be the obligatory walk to settle things down and a sort of straightening up, but mostly it was games. Board games, card games, horse shoe (if the weather permitted), dominoes and any other game that could be played. Yes, the football games would be on, but they were a background noise. There might be two or three games going on at any one time. There was always another piece of pie to eat between hands, a turkey sandwich while cards were shuffled, warmed up potatoes after a ringer. Some people would leave and others would appear. Coffee was brewed and drinks poured. And it just kept going until we were so sated with food and family we could just bust.
If the Doctor ever shows up with his blue Police box and offers me a chance to go anywhere in time and space, I know exactly where I would want to go. I would go back to the top of the hill, just outside of Mulberry, sometime in the 60s or 70s or even 80s and watch my Daddy hang his socks, Mother take another pie out of the oven and get ready for my favorite day in the year.