Thursday, November 26, 2009


Sam (Indian) and friend Sam (Pilgrim), 1st grade Thanksgiving feast, November 1996

So here we are at Thanksgiving. I baked the pies yesterday afternoon. Two pumpkins first, then an apple (spices only, no sugar so my dad, who is diabetic, can eat it). I found the "all Christmas music all the time already" channel on the radio and put it on while the house filled up with the smells of cinnamon and cloves.

After supper, while Warren practiced for a weekend performance, I peeled potatoes and made the cranberry sauce. If you stepped outside and then came back in, the fragrance of good food would greet you at the door.

This morning I'll tackle cleaning the living room, where we will set up the table for later today. Warren's son David is joining us for breakfast shortly, having driven down from Akron yesterday. My nephew Matthew is marching in the Macy's Day parade as part of the Macy's Great American Marching Band, so at some point we will flip on the television (a rarity!) and see if we can catch a glimpse of him in the mellophone section.

Late afternoon today, family will gather here for an evening meal. Warren and I are undertaking the bulk of the food and preparations - the turkey, the mashed potatoes, all the desserts, the cranberry sauce (already done), the stuffing. My parents, my older brother, my aunt Ginger, and Sam will join us at the table. I have no question that Warren's parents, Ellen and Art, are already present one way or another.

Sam is struggling to be thankful for anything as his job search goes on and on. I'm hoping the Thanksgiving meal will bring a smile to his face; Grandma is making the marshmallow sweet potato concoction and a plate of deviled eggs at his request. Sam is making pumpkin mousse (his idea) when he arrives, serving it in the parfait glasses that caught his eye last week when he came over. (They belonged to Warren's mother or grandmother and Sam thought it would be cool to use them.)

I am awash in memories of Thanksgiving past, way past. When I was a kid, Thanksgiving and Christmas were divided between my grandparents' households. Thanksgiving was always spent with my Grandma Skatzes, who lived one floor below us. Christmas was always spent with my grandparents Nelson, on their farm some 12 miles away.

Looking back many decades later, I now scratch my head over that particular division. I loved Grandma Skatzes dearly, but cooking was not her strong suit. On the other hand, Grandma Nelson, who was not a storybook Christmas grandmother, was an excellent cook. So I am unsure to this day why the holidays got split such that we spent the one holiday devoted to food with Grandma Skatzes.

Even though Grandma Skatzes was not known for her cooking, I don't remember ever having a bad Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe my aunt Ginger, who lived with her parents until their deaths, took on the bulk of the cooking. Maybe my mother was down in that kitchen as well, adding her talents to the mix. As a little kid, I didn't pay much attention to the food preparation. I just remember the food tasted good.

Food preparation didn't interest me because I was camped out with my brothers in front of the color television watching the parades: Macy's in New York, Gimbels in Philadelphia. (Note: Color television was a BIG deal back in the early 1960s.) We were all enthralled with the giant balloons and would squeal and shriek when a favorite (Underdog! Bullwinkle!) would float into view.

There was limited space at Grandma's table (a 1950s red top, chrome trimmed classic that I miss to this day) and we four would be relegated to TV trays in the living room. Unheard of luxury! Turkey, a TV tray, and a color television all in one fell swoop!

Thanksgiving was bliss.

For the most part, the menu at Grandma's Thanksgiving was pretty standard from year to year. Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes. "Brown-n-serve rolls," exotic simply because they came from a store. Pumpkin pies on a folding table in Ginger's "sitting room." Two dishes made Thanksgiving distinct: my grandmother's vinegar coleslaw and a pan of homemade oyster stuffing (which was always called "dressing"). Those were the flavors of my childhood Thanksgiving: that tart slaw and that moist dressing. As a adult, I finally tracked down a close facsimile of the slaw, but I have not tasted that oyster dressing in over 35 years.

While I type these words, Warren is at his instruments. Soft conga sounds drifted down from upstairs at first; he is now two rooms away on the timpani. Our Thanksgiving is being heralded in with a chorus of kettle drums.

Parades! Pies! Turkey! Family! Drums! My cornucopia of blessings is full to the brim.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Money Funk said...

Such a wonderful way with words you have! I could smell the wonderful meal thru this screen. ;)

Too bad I missed the Macy's day parade this year. I love watching Santa come at the end of it.

Wouldn't happen to have a great cookie recipe for a diabetic, would you?

Joni said...

I've enjoyed your Thanksgiving memories. As I was growing up, oyster dressing was always a staple on the Thanksgiving dinner table and continues in my mother's home today. Unfortunately, my taste buds never acquired the taste for it. Perhaps next year I will request oyster dressing leftovers (my mother won't know what to say) and share them with you, April. You can compare my mom's to your grandmother's recipe.


Hope your Thanksgiving was all that you wished!