In my family, Thanksgivings were always celebrated at our house. My mother would be up late on Erev Thanksgiving baking pies, then up early on Thanksgiving Day to put a twenty-something pound turkey in the oven. The meal was always the same: turkey stuffed with Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix spiked with sausage, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls and one other vegetable. I don’t think the green bean casserole craze had arrived yet but I seem to remember string beans or corn. Of course, there was canned cranberry sauce … the whole berry kind Dad liked and the jellied kind I still prefer. The pies were always the same: pumpkin, mince meat and cherry.
Sometime about noon, Dad would head off to pick up the grandmothers, my Mom’s mother, who we called Nanny, and my Dad’s Mom, who we called Gramma. Until he passed away at a relatively young age, my father’s brother, Walt, would come, too. Walt had a disability that affected him both physically and mentally. His child-like ways made me uncomfortable but my Mom insisted I spend some time with him … which included several games of chess that he’d only occasionally win. My mother’s sister, Marge, and her husband, Ted, would roll up shortly before dinner. Dad was outspoken about his dislike of Marge but really liked Ted, in spite of wondering out loud afterwards, What did he ever see in that woman? Our house was small, so dad would move the dining room table into the living room so there was room to put in two leaves and have everybody, including the kids (me, my brother Glenn and sister, Patti) at one table. One drumstick was always mine and everyone was sure to make a big deal about how much I ate, an affliction that has remained with me to this day. Meanwhile, at one end of the table, Gramma was asking for just a little more of this and and a little more of that until she’d surreptitiously eaten more than I did. The best part of the turkey, she’d say, is the part that went over the fence last, as Dad cut her the tail. I doubt the twenty pound Tom had ever made it over a fence. During the afternoon, uncle and aunts and cousins would stop by to visit and scarf some of Mom’s pies as I watched in horror.
When you are a kid, you don’t think about the whys and wherefores of the holidays. You don’t realize that Mom insisted on having Thanksgiving so that the grandmothers and her sister would have a place to go on Thanksgiving. She couldn’t count on the rest of the family and besides, no one would have Marge. You don’t consider that every year, Dad probably tried to talk her out of inviting Marge but she insisted or that the grandmothers didn’t seem to like each other all that much but Mom had them both come anyway. You don’t wonder if just once, she might have liked to had someone else do all the work … like one of those Uncles or Aunts who’d get to visit their Moms on my mother’s dime with dessert thrown in. You take it for granted that Mom insists you be nice to Uncle Walt, when all the other cousins make fun of him and call him Uncle Piggy.
Like my Dad, my Mom taught mostly by example (only in her case, with a bit of guilt thrown in as motivation … God has a special place in heaven for people like Walt, so you can be nice to him). Mom was the glue that held the family together, planning holidays and picnics and reunions. When she passed, it all stopped. I don’t know if anyone appreciated her. I didn’t then. I do now. Miss you, Mom.