November 21, 2012
The Thanksgivings of my childhood had much tradition tied to them. The origins of some remain a mystery; others are burned into my brain as “the way” to do things. I’ve collected a few scenes from the turkey days of my youth.
Here’s to the people, food, rituals and familial idiosyncrasies that make each Thanksgiving so wonderfully perfect, flawed, complicated and simple. Happy Thanksgiving.
The night before Thanksgiving:
Mom thaws the semi-frozen turkey in bit of tepid water in the kitchen sink, which is scoured to surgical-level sterility. I periodically walk into the kitchen and poke at the thawing turkey’s naked self, presumably contaminating the otherwise sterile environment.
Mom wakes us early to help with the polishing of the silver, setting of the table (good tablecloth, pressed cloth napkins, china, water and wine glasses), and the washing of cooking utensils, pots and pans (Mom is a “clean-as-you-go” cook).
We watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (whilst dusting, vacuuming and fetching).
We de-vein shrimp. I don’t know who started the shrimp cocktail Thanksgiving appetizer tradition, but my Mom insisted on it. Related: I could eat shrimp cocktail all day long, as could my brother. Reality: Everyone got five. Lesson: Shrimp is expensive; Get a good job!
We never light the politically incorrect but TOTALLY CUTE Pilgrim and Native American candles. Why? Because then we couldn’t use them every single year, silly! We handle those candles with the same care and reverence as we handle the family china. Do. Not. Break. Do. Not. Drop. White bread Hallmark heirloom? You decide. Mom still has them.
The family, now faint with hunger and overwhelmed by the heady smells emanating from the oven and stove, is warned against eating anything that might “spoil your appetite” for the eating extravaganza that awaits.
Dad sneaks a butter and peanut butter sandwich. We are all jealous.
Time for the feast:
Dad is beckoned to carve the turkey. His brow furrows in deep concentration at this mighty task. Also, his tongue sticks out ever so slightly: evidence that this feat requires the precision of an expert marksman.
We fill water glasses. (Hand blown red glasses that my parents received as a wedding present. Reserved for holiday use only.)
We fetch serving dishes and utensils for Mom who is frantically moving from one burner to the next to the stove to the refrigerator. She barks orders and physically moves us where she wants us to be.
We WASH OUR HANDS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! Thanks, Dad.
We usher grandparents, aunts, uncles and other guests to the table like royalty.
We help Mom serve the shrimp cocktail. Did I mention that everyone gets five? Savor ‘em, people, because that’s it until next year!
Lots of “please,” “thank you,” “this is delicious,”and “are you sure you want that last shrimp?”
We kids have a moment of quiet dread when we realize that we have to hand wash, dry and put away every single plate, glass, salad fork and hand blown water glass that sit before us. We die a little.
Mom rises to clear the dinner plates and gives us the eye to help her.
Coffee is brewed and served; dessert plates are carried to the table.
The pies are presented. There are always several. The most popular response to the question, “Pie?” is “I’ll try a sliver of each!”
Homemade whipped cream, people.
There is a massive clearing of the table that enlists the help of all females present. The men retire to watch football. I realize how antiquated this seems, but that’s how it was in my house when I was very young. Years later, there was much more male participation. And by participation, I mean dish washing.
Tupperware madness. Mom has the uncanny ability to size up the leftover food in a bowl and find the corresponding Tupperware into which it will snugly fit. It’s a gift.
There is endless dish washing, dish drying, dish putting away. We go through at least eight dish towels and steam up the kitchen windows from the hot dish water and ceaseless activity.
Finally satisfied, Mom releases us from our servitude, and we collapse onto the floor of the family room where Dad and all the males are watching football/slipping into turkey comas.
And for every bit, I am grateful.