When I was a kid Thanksgiving was always a big holiday. It was one of the few holidays that my mother seemed to enjoy, even though she did most of the work to make the day a special one. Preparations started weeks before. October was the month of the turkey shoots, where my Dad would go with his rifle and shoot at a target. The closest shot to the paper target won the bird. Some years my Dad would succeed, and some he would not. My mother, without saying a word, would buy a turkey anyway, just in case.
The week before Thanksgiving was the shopping week, and the cupboards would be filled with all sorts of groceries. Most were foreign to me, as I did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen back then (and still don’t)! I remember many Thanksgiving eves when my mother would be sitting at the table in the kitchen peeling and cutting potatoes. I was always amused watching her cut the turnip, and wondered how she did not end up cutting off a finger in the process, as the vegetable is so hard on the outside. To this day I don’t like turnip much, and I think it’s because I know how my mom struggled with them all of those years!
Thanksgiving morning I would wake to the aroma of turkey baking in the oven. My Dad always made breakfast that day, as Mom worked around him continuing her preparation for dinner. Dad would make his “famous” pancakes, and we’d sit and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while enjoying the pancakes lavished with maple syrup. My Dad was just as excited about the parade as I was, and we’d wait with anticipation to see Santa on his sleigh.
I usually helped to set the table with the special blue plates. I remember them well, as they had a New England scene on them, with people walking on a path. As a kid waiting for the big dinner, it seemed as if a lifetime had passed since breakfast. I used to joke that by dinner time I was so hungry I could eat the people right off the plates!
I never knew who was going to join us for the Thanksgiving feast. Our house was always full of relatives and friends. My Mom invited anyone who had no other place to go for the day, to come and enjoy the big meal with us. My Dad would put the large leaf in the dining room table, and some years I really don’t know how we all fit there, but we managed. No matter what the economic situation from year to year, somehow my mother was always able to have an abundance of food prepared for all.
I remember one year there was a big snow storm on Thanksgiving day. My Dad and I left to go and get my grandmother, to bring her to our house for the day. She lived only about two miles away. It had snowed so much that we had to shovel our way out of our driveway and then down her driveway before Dad could drive on it. It seemed to me as if it took us about two hours to accomplish the task of retrieving Granny. But back then no one questioned it. My mother said “go get Ma,” and we did.
Once the big meal was over, it was time to clean up. There were no dishwashers back then, so I spent many hours during those years at the kitchen sink. Mom would always insist on washing, and I’d take turns drying the dishes with whoever else was there to help.
After the dishes were all put away and we’d had dessert, my Dad would usually bring out the guitar. We’d sit around for hours singing songs and playing instruments (including spoons and kazoos). It was always a wonderful day.
Time went on and before I knew it, I was away at college. That was the first year that I could not go home for Thanksgiving. My cousin and I went searching in Tampa, Florida, for a restaurant that was open. Back then, almost every place was closed. There was no Black Friday, and there were no stores open at all on Thanksgiving day. We found a Chinese restaurant that was actually open, and we were the only customers in there! I missed the traditional Thanksgiving meal and my family, but I was glad to have my cousin with me to share the day.
The next year my Mom died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Thanksgiving would never be the same without her. My sister and brother-in-law took on the task of hosting Thanksgiving dinner in their home, and have been doing so for these last 28 years. Other traditions have formed over those years, and we’ve been able to come together and celebrate our blessings together. We’ve had great times with the next generation of the family, as the nieces and nephews now have children of their own to join in the feast.
I have been blessed in my life, and have many things for which I am thankful. As this Thanksgiving day approaches, and I am remembering the days of my childhood, I realize that I am one of the fortunate ones in this world. I was blessed with loving parents who made Thanksgiving a special day for me. And even after all these years, I still wait with anticipation to see Santa in the Macy’s parade!
Sometimes it just doesn’t get any better than that. Happy Thanksgiving!