Offering a short holiday interruption from my early twenties recollections, here’s a story from my first decade of Thanksgiving Day holidays! This old-fashioned Thanksgiving was repeated throughout my childhood, only the height of the stack of mail-order catalogues on which I sat changed as the years passed. Feel free to share your memories with me!
Bouncing up and down on the back seat of the two-door, white, Ford Fairlane, my sisters and I talked all at the same time about what goodies Grandma would be putting on the kitchen table. Talk was directed toward the meal only since reaching the gate to their farmhouse, however. Before making this turn, the inside of the vehicle was filled with the sounds of “Over the River and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go,” and other such tunes of the season. “Finally, my father moved to retrieve mother’s contributions to the holiday meal while she opened her door, tipped her seat forward and we piled out, hitting the frozen ground at a dead run.
“Grandma! Grandpa! We’re here! Grandpa! Grandma!” their three little darlings called to them as the small girls all tried to reach the handle of the side door. Of course their farm house had a front door, but that was only used when going out to fetch water at the pump; otherwise, it was the side door that welcomed hungry little visitors inside out of the November chill.
Once open the smells from that narrow section of their two-part kitchen enveloped us. Is there anything so inviting as the smell of fresh bread just out of the oven? Well, unless it might be the luscious aroma of those apple, pumpkin and mince meat pies atop that back counter that were cooling; or, perhaps, the absolutely heart-stopping savory scent of that roasting turkey. Soon Grandpa would come along to pull the giant, golden bird out of the belly of that wood stove and he and Daddy would head over to the table to carve it up for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Shooting through that outside door, we knew better than to throw our arms around Grandma if she was bending over the hot stove to baste the turkey or standing up by the shiny, black behemoth, lifting the heavy round, metal flat lid to add more wood; but, as we ran inside, she stopped what she was doing and came over to us. Wrapping our little arms around the familiar aproned body, we wished her a hearty, “Happy Thanksgiving,” squeezing with all our might. As we grew older and taller the placement of those arms around the apron ascended but on this occasion, my lifted arms were still well below the waistband tie. I was on one side and my younger sister claimed a leg on the other side. My older sister always, patiently, waited her turn. If I happened to be positioned more to the back than the front, my upward glance would focus on that wonderful looping white braid Grandma always wrapped around the top of her head, best seen from the back if one was as short as I was. In later years, I would spend the night and see that mysterious coil unwound, freeing it to cascade loosely over her shoulders and down nearly to her waist. But, at this point in my young life, it was still a mystery to me as to what it might look like should it ever be unbound from the tightly braided loops. Should I have moved myself slightly forward as I hugged my Grandma, looking up would let me see a huge smile of brightly whitened teeth. All were completely uniform and perfect because they were not really Grandma’s first set of teeth. Sometimes she only used half of her teeth, usually the top half, but it was a holiday so she had both halves smiling today.
“Grandpa,” she called into the other room where he and Daddy had just started talking about farm stuff. “Look who is here now, will you? And, please get some wash water before we sit down.” Instantly loosening our grip on Grandma, we turned to see Grandpa standing in the doorway with his comfortably familiar red flannel shirt, his faded long-johns peeking out of the end of his sleeves and open collar. His arms were ready for us. His smile said, “Here I am,” without moving his lips or making a sound. How wonderful it felt hugging my Grandpa. Like my father, he smelled something of Old Spice aftershave and another special scent I never could identify. It was just “grandpa” and I loved the smell! Standing back up he stepped down into the recessed section of the kitchen where one could find the woodstove, cream separator, and other evidences that this was a very busy room on any day in the life of an old-fashion farm. Grandpa patted our heads as he crossed in front of each of us and over to the storeroom to fetch his water bucket, lying next to the big metal wash basins in the corner.
“I will go with you, “I let Grandpa know as I grabbed the hand which did not have the bucket. I did not need my mitten on that hand because Grandpa’s large hand swallowed up mine. It was so warm in his grip.
“Not this time, Punkin, “came my father’s reply, “You need to get washed up for dinner, yourself.” At this point, my mother finished taking off my jacket and pulled me into the little storeroom where she had just washed my sister’s hands. I stood by the smaller basins, already filled with water and let her rub on the soap, while I watched both of my sisters drying their hands on one large towel stretched out between them. There was no running water in Grandma and Grandpa’s little house. We used basins of water to wash everything… hands, dishes, laundry and later when I stayed overnight here I even took a bath in the basin!
It was not long before the food was on the table and everyone began finding their chairs at the familiar old table in the other half of the farm kitchen. Grandpa and I were last to find our places at the table, though Daddy had not yet taken his seat. It was easy to find my chair; it was the one with the two thick Sears and Roebucks catalogues on it. I stood by the chair, arms out away from my sides, and let Daddy lift me over and down. Finally, the chair was pushed closer to the table and I squirmed only a little until I felt settled on my mealtime perch. All eyes turned to look at me, as I was asked to thank the Lord for His bountiful provision and the Lord’s blessing over the meal.
Though I was only a small child, I took this charge very seriously as I surveyed the contents of this food-laden Thanksgiving dinner table. The colors, the variety of different dishes that we all loved so much, as well as those scrumptious smells mingled with an awareness that the table had been set with Grandma’s finest plates and silverware. How could we feel anything but blessed and very special to be sitting here?
The table was loaded with sweet potatoes with marshmallows melted atop the orange vegetable that also held a sweet glaze under that marshmallow, a mountain of homemade mashed potatoes next to a large gravy bowl of rich brown turkey gravy, and next to them was a second serving dish with a mountain of bread dressing (lightly smelling of sage). There was also green beans in a mushroom sauce with crunchy onion rings from the can on top (my favorite) and, probably, green peas and carrots somewhere, too. Grandma’s dinner rolls were always freshly baked, soft and chewy treats with melting butter lathered on top of the open roll. (Nope, nobody even talked about fat grams and cholesterol in those days.) I was not a cranberry fan as far as taste buds go, but I did love the bright red color in the dish on the table. Next I would notice the glass bowls of black olives and another of green olives with little red stuff in it, which I usually took out before eating the green olive. Celery sticks were filled with cream cheese or an orange Cheez-Whiz I liked a lot, though sometimes there was also celery filled with peanut butter—now that was fun for a kid! Grandma made her own pickles, too, so there were plates or dishes with dill pickles, sweet pickles and bread and butter pickles. Of course, the large platter filled with slices of turkey meat held center stage; both dark and white meat filled the plate. The drumsticks did not adorn the platter for long, once lifted for serving the family.
It was an added blessing that the Lord had given me only one sister who also liked the turkey drumstick, since the turkey only had two to give! The large instrument of much joy took up a sizeable place on my plate, thereby decreasing the area left for more adult things such as vegetables. I loved the drumstick because I could hold it in my hands, as much as for the taste of the meat. Of course, I was never able to finish it at that meal so it always went home with us.
If one of us kids needed to use the restroom, all of us were asked to “try to go” because Grandma and Grandpa did not have any restroom inside the house. It was out back, across the little wooden bridge over the creek behind the house. It was a two-seater, which was good if the weather was especially cold. I guess the adult who took us figured one trip out there in the cold air was enough.
At last the adults finished their long discourses at the table and declared that they now had room in their tummies for some dessert. Out came the smaller plates, clean forks and all the pies! I loved pumpkin pie just as it was, no whipping cream on it. The adults all had dark black coffee with their meal. The kids, like always, drank milk. In those days it was never thought that we would drink anything other than milk with our meals. Grandpa’s milk was different, though; it had come from his very own cows, not Safeway. The same could be said for much of what Grandma had prepared because they raised pigs, beef, and chickens and she always cultivated an enormously gigantic vegetable garden from where her yearlong vegetables would come.
When the leftovers had been packed up and the little girls back on the bench behind their parents, the car backed out. Swinging around in front of the house, we waited until Daddy finished his three-point turn and our grandparents were, once again in view. We had turned around so we could see them out the back window. Kneeling on the seat, there was a bit less vigor to those waves; we were three tired little girls.
Now, you might think the Thanksgiving Day is all over at this point and the family is heading home, right? Well, almost over; just one more thing left for young Sojourner and her little sister. Back at home, baths were given and pajamas now covered those little holiday celebrants. However, before the “Goodnights” were spoken, out came that leftover turkey drumstick for just a few more tiny bites. It was as good cold as hot. Better to take a few bites now than to just dream of doing it, right? Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful day!
****The First Thanksgiving Day… Next Post