Sunday, November 25, 2007


Over the past several days, I've been able to participate in two of my neighbors' Thanksgiving dinner traditions. I always find it interesting to be invited into others' homes and observe what they do on the holidays and how that compares with my own history.

For twenty years, we would watch the Macy's parade on television and then drive to visit my father's mother who lived with my aunt and her family. I was always kinda afraid of my grandmother even though she was nothing but sweet. About 5 foot tall, skinny, nice as can be. I think it was because she never wore her dentures that put me ill-at-ease as a child. Oh, and that my aunt was always really medicated. I didn't understand at the time, it just made me uncomfortable. But she was an epileptic and had been on strong meds her entire life.

Next was literally over the river and through the woods (via Hill Road) to my maternal grandparent's house we went. My grandmother, who I think was the most influential person in how I developed as an adult, was an awesome cook. In fact, other than the cooking where I have minimal interest, she is the person I have tried to model my life after.

There were always about 20 people and each family member had a specialty that was on the table for them. I remember being forced to read Grace from an index card on my lap — I knew I was an agnostic even as a boy and having to give thanks to someone I just didn't believe in chafed my hide.

Then there was always drama around whether my aunt (not Ms. Phenobarbital, but Ms. Bible Thumper) would accompany my uncle. She was invariably having an evangelical Christian moment that would prevent her from attending. Her religion was so wonderful that it kept her from participating in family events. I mean, we were as traditional as you get. No fighting, my grandparents elders in their church, everyone was respectful. Yeah, she had some religion, alright. And managed to miss out on the most wonderful gatherings I remember from my youth.

So the meals. There was, of course, the traditional turkey (carved by my grandfather as the patriarch), dressing, mashed potatoes and rolls; boiled onions for my grandfather; mashed squash for my mother; baked oyster casserole in oyster crackers (yuck!) for my uncle; cranberry sauce from a can for my father; fresh cranberry relish for my aunt; raspberry jello with fresh whipped cream for my brother; warm garlic bread for my cousin; and banana bread for me. There were fresh baked pies...always apple, raspberry, pumpkin, and then a wild card thrown in each year like mincemeat or cherry.

We "visited" (talked) in the living room from the time we got there until dinner was served at 2. The men and children would retire back to the living room, unbutton the top button of their pants, watch football (Go Cowboys!), and chat some more. Usually the men discussed deer hunting and the illusive 8-point buck they saw the other day. This was before the local deer population explosion when seeing a deer through binoculars was a rare sight; now they come up to the house to munch on our shrubs.

The women, bless their hearts, moved back to the kitchen to do the dishes and clean-up. My grandmother didn't have a washing machine so all dishes were done by hand. When they were finished, they'd join the group for more talking. The conversation would usually change to discussions about people "have you seen so and so lately?" (not gossipy but in a good way) and talking about old times. I know a lot about more people I never met just from listening to the stories every year. This cultural art form, the passing of stories from one generation to the next, seems to have gone by the wayside.

Next up was supper at 6, where every thing was brought out again, warmed up, and served almost as it had been at 2 except the portions were decidedly smaller. There was a heavier emphasis on the pies at this meal.

Neighbors #1, where I went on Thanksgiving day, prided themselves on their selection of pies for dessert. The dad started at about 5 in the morning going from store to store getting all the favorites for each of the kids — as kids go, none of them liked the same thing of course. Pumpkin, dutch apple, dutch blueberry, cherry, strawberry rhubarb (my selection), coconut cream, chocolate cream, and peanut butter. They, too, had the turkey, two stuffings (one with sausage and one without) and made in separate dishes not in the bird, mashed potatoes, and gravy; sides were mashed squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kernel corn. Much joking was spent on the cranberry sauce's origins from of a can, which I discovered is an absolute must in there house, and rolls in a basket were passed.

Neighbors #2, where I went on Friday, prided themselves on their large amounts of great home cooking. When I arrived, the windows were steamed from all the hot activity in the kitchen. The turkey was out and resting before being carved and the adults were partaking in some sangria. They cooked enough to feed an army and it was all delicious. Again, there was the turkey with dressing in the bird, whipped potatoes, and gravy; green bean casserole, and brown 'n' serve rolls (yum!). Dessert was chocolate bundt cake and a home made pecan pie.

Both of my neighbors took great care of me and were generous to a fault. They prepared plates for mother dear that I could give to her upon my short walk home — she devoured them and didn't spare a crumb!

1 comment:

proudprogressive said...

wow, as a hermit, i thank you for that wonderful vivid description of family life. Three seperate ones. Your take on your family cracks me up ! I cannot help but think that perhaps the family gathering were so wonderful BECAUSE your Bible thumper Aunt was having a " religious moment" ironic isn't it ? - looks around for lightning. What characters, I think my tiny granny would have scared me too , if she had not worn her teeth. Thanks for reminding me , i too have some fond memories of my big family. When i was so young. Before devorce torn us asunder. The Passover Saders, all the cousins, Thankgiving and CHRISTMAS, too ! My grandfather would even dress up as Santa ,i kid you not, fill the living room with presents..9 of us cousins would barrel down the stairs at the crack of dawn to a wonderland for a child. The is one old video a cousin found and sent to all of us scattered to the wind (haven't seen some in well over 40 yrs.sadly) Anyhow there i am , PP in a little Dress ! (not my usual comfort zone ,but i was 3 ) and i was spookily flapping my hands , autistically !! so overwelmed was I, with the whole scene. I don't know why i am telling you this, I just wanted to share. I no longer flap my hands. LOL , but I do miss family I admit it. Its sad what happened to my family. All the devorces were so contentious, people never recovered. Thank you for bringing your family life , to life for me on your blog. I would love to have you as a brother and be helping to take care of "our" mom. I am so alienated , distant from my own. And yes i know one day soon it will be too late. Its complicated, but believe me you are blessed,in your maturity and the love you must have been shown as a child, at least enough to overcome , your own "quirks" that you have described. That is no small feat my friend.