(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
The Holiday Season is here. Hooray for Thanksgiving! How did you spend your day? Did you remember to say, “Thank you” to someone?
Not all of us can experience the Thanksgiving in the iconic Norman Rockwell painting, Freedom from Want. It is an idealistic expression of family and the welcoming feelings of family gatherings. Yet, annually we strive to create that vignette for ourselves.
When I was in elementary school, in the 1950s, we would draw, cut, paste turkeys, Pilgrims, and Indians. It was a very short-sighted and syrupy interpretation of what Thanksgiving was and why we celebrate it. More importantly to our narrowly focused little minds, it was the first vacation from school for that year. Some had had Columbus Day off, but that was earlier and only the one day. It seemed ever so long since the freedom of summer. The grind on our poor little spirits was untenable. More pragmatically, most schools were heated with coal furnaces and it cost too much to bank them for a Thursday, bring us back for Friday, and then bank them again for the weekend. Columbus Day, being earlier in the year, didn’t worry the custodian about the care of the furnace. So, Thanksgiving break became a four-day weekend. Upon dismissal Wednesday afternoon we would be primly marched from the classroom in our silent, straight girl’s and boy’s lines, clutching our Thanksgiving craft project. Upon exiting the door we would run like the wind. Need I add that many of the craft projects never got home or if they did they were the worse for wear?
By the time we got up Thursday morning, our mothers were already busy in the kitchen. There were pies to bake and a big bird to get into the oven. Some of my favorite Thanksgivings were when Daddy would help Grandmom, Moma’s mother, make pies. She would add a “dollop” of schnapps to pumpkin and mince pie fillings. I never knew how much a “dollop” was, and apparently neither did she. She would ask my father if she had put in enough. He would make a big show of touching his finger to the filling and tasting, then he would always say no, not enough. She’d add a drop more and they’d check again. He, of course, would try to see how much he could entice her to put into the pies. It was a game for both of them and would set everyone in the kitchen, and it seemed everyone was always there, into giggles. “Oh, Jimmy!” would put a stop to it. She never really used much, but it was always a fun by-play for the two of them.
We would spend much of the morning watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. One year, when I was still very small and we were in Philadelphia, my grandfather took me in town to see the parade in person. I can remember being dressed in my forest green leggings, with the forest green coat that had a fitted bodice and a full skirt on the bottom, with a matching hat. The only time he would let go of my hand was when he would lift me so I could see more. It was noisy, and colorful, and the air was electric. He bought me a balloon. I remember watching the vendor carefully free it from the fistful of stings that tethered the multicolored cloud above his head. There were floats and bands and clowns. A classic parade. As soon as Santa passed, the crowd began to move and Granddad gripped my hand so hard I thought it would fall off. He guided us to the subway, which was also crowded with the cheerful holiday throng. But I lost my balloon. I was used to them being tied to my wrist, and Granddad had simply given it to me to hold. Foolish me, I’d let go. So I watched it drift up into the sky.
Thanksgiving was also football games. They were long and tedious for little people who were excited by the holiday atmosphere and couldn’t sit still. Whether we would be stationed out of town and it was just Daddy to annoy, or we were home with other family men, they would be riveted to the game and have no time to play. Soon Moma, or if we were at grandparents’ houses, grandmothers would be telling us it was time to come to the table. The men would grumble something about it being the end of the fourth quarter. The women would bemoan the fact that the food was getting cold. Then we were encouraged to eat until we were ready to burst. It was a feast, we were told. It was insulting to those who had labored to put it together if we didn’t eat as much as we possibly could. The skin of the bird was crackly and full of all the flavor from the basting. If we were with my father’s parents there would be ambrosia salad. That was a very sweet concoction of fruit cocktail, coconut, and sour cream that just slid down your throat. At my other grandmother’s house there was a dish of stewed celery, which I thought was about the best vegetable ever. For dessert we had to have a “sliver” of each variety of pie. Then the adults would sit and talk for what seemed to be hours. Children would be excused to go play. If it was still light, we would slip outside where the brisk fall air would reinvigorate us.
After Walt and I married we faced the dilemma of most young couples: who gets to make which holiday dinner? Was it the young bride who, in our case, didn’t know how to cook, or which of the couple’s families get the honor? Since Moma’s rule had always been the Christmas was for the Children, Walt and I decided that whoever had the youngest child should have Christmas, and Thanksgiving and New Year’s could be split. That meant that early on, much of Christmas Day was at my parent’s as my sister, 16 years my junior, was still a child. When we had children of our own, that shifted. Then our Mothers began alternating who would hold the Thanksgiving dinner. As my siblings weren’t married that was still relatively simple. As our mothers aged, they decided to pool their resources and take the melded families to dinner at a nice restaurant. My brother and sister-in-law do two Thanksgivings in one day to be with both sides of their families, my sister alternates. Sometimes our sons can join us and sometimes not. This year we have one home. We are thankful for these opportunities to share family time and love. I don’t know how you spent your Thanksgiving Day, but I hope you were able to enjoy some of the warmth evoked by the Rockwell painting.
The last word:
We hope your Thanksgiving was relaxing and your end of year holidays are joyous.
Keep your sense of humor.