Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It is a North American holiday – Oh yes, Canada enjoys that holiday too, but not on the same calendar day. In Canada, the celebration is on the second Monday of October, but in the USA it is the fourth Thursday of November. Traditionally it a day set aside to be thankful for the bounty of the Harvest, and the blessings received all year. It is a family day – a day that families gather to eat a bountiful meal, watch parades, and football!
The origins of Thanksgiving in the USA go back to the French and Spanish explorers who set aside thanksgiving time when they had safely arrived in the New World. In Jamestown, the tradition was born of having a feast to celebrate the harvest.
In my family, the day was celebrated with a groaning table of food – laid out with the ‘good china and glassware.’ My Mother and Grandmother would spend hours in the kitchen cooking the turkey and all the wonderful vegetables from our garden. Of course, no Thanksgiving day would be complete without Pumpkin pie – piled high with whipped cream. After the meal, the ladies would clean the table and divvy up the leftovers to the guests. Then they would wash and dry the good china and glasses for the next big event of Christmas Day. The men and sometimes the smallest children would retire to the TV set to watch football. I have some very good memories of listening to the family gossip as my mother, aunts, and Grandmother had me help with the dishes. I was always sorry to see the end of the day come.
I want to share with you the first memory I have of a Thanksgiving Day celebration. This took place at my grandparents’ house in Eden, Ohio.
Grandma’s Holiday Table
I awoke to the smell of pumpkin pies wafting through the house. The pleasant spicy smell at once told my brain that it was Thanksgiving Day, and we would soon be on our way to Grandma’s house. Being only five, I did not have many memories of celebration dinners, but those I did remember were full of colorful decorations, candy, and so much delicious food there was no way I could eat it all. I couldn’t wait for the day to start.
Soon mom had gotten myself and my two older sisters up and moving to wash and get ready to go for the hour and a half drive to Edon, Ohio, where my grandparents lived. Mom made our favorite cinnamon bread for breakfast. Then managed to shepherd us all into our matching dresses for this special event. I remember bouncing up and down at the back window with excitement as I awaited Dad packing the old black Chevy for the trip. At last, it was time!
The three of us girls piled into the backseat – with me in the middle because I was the littlest. I longed to be big enough to be able to sit by a window, but today I forgot my jealousy and sat quietly for the first fifteen minutes of the ride.
“Are we there yet?” I questioned.
My big sister, Aletha, punched my arm, “Of course not! Remember, we have to go out of town first, then to Harlan, then Hicksville, and then Edgerton and then we will get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.”
“Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton!” All three of us repeatedly chanted. “Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton …”
In the front seat, mom stopped talking to daddy and instead started us singing rounds of “Sweet Silver Bells.”
“Sweet Silver bells upon a slender stalk,
Lilies of the Valley grace my garden walk.
Oh don’t you wish
That you could hear them ring,
That can only happen if the fairies sing,”
Each of us knew when to chime in after mom had started the round. We went on and on until Mom stopped, and then each of us would stop in turn. Once we got started on rounds, we continue to sing such rounds, such as: “Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping, Brother John?”; “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; and “Three Blind Mice.” That would usually get us to Hicksville, where an Aunt that lived in a huge three-storied house where she rented out rooms. But today, we would not stop because we were going to Edon to eat Thanksgiving Day dinner with Grandma and Grandpa.
The three of us all began the chant again, “Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton. Harlan, Hicksville, Edgerton.” As we saw the familiar signs taking us to Edgerton, Ohio, our excitement peaked.
“What do you suppose we will have to eat today?” Aletha asked.
“Turkey,” Martha and I shouted. “Mashed potatoes!” “Gravy!” “Peas!” “Corn on the cob!”
My mouth was watering by the time we pulled up to the familiar house of my Grandparents. They greeted us as usual. I hung back as my Grandmother always intimidated me. My refuge was my Grandfather. We were pals. He, too, was quiet as I was, so we stuck together in the bustle of the day.
I walked into the living room, and before me was a dazzling sight. I could see into the dining room where the table stretched out as big as it could go to accommodate all seven of us. In the middle was a big cornucopia filled with all colors and sizes of gourds. The table was already laid out with a full complement of silverware at each place, along with fancy napkins. Even the water goblets my Grandmother rarely took out of the China cabinet were carefully stationed at each place. Equally elegant was the tempting small china baskets filled with candy that sat at on each person’s plate. I saw my place as it had a taller chair so I could reach the table. My eyes could not stop going back to that candy basket. For a five-year-old, it was mighty tempting. Couldn’t I just steal one piece of candy? My hand was wandering in that direction when the wrath of my Grandmother descended on me.
“No candy before we eat, or I will take away all of your candy.” She scolded sternly. As a sensitive child, I was humiliated and fled the dining room.
As the day progressed, more delights appeared on the table: many varieties of pickles – including my Grandmother’s watermelon pickles, green olives; black olives – which were so much fun to place on the tips of your fingers before eating; pickles; celery and carrots. The temptation to steal a morsel grew as did my hunger. In the hub-bub, I saw my sisters snitch an olive or two, so I did too. I was the unfortunate one to get caught and was told to “Stay out of the way and away from the table!” Easier said than done.
It is a fact that ‘stay out of the way’ for a hungry five-year-old who faced such a spread was a difficult mission indeed –especially when the smells emanating from the kitchen made my mouth water continually. After being scolded a third and fourth time, I was not only hungry but near tears too. My Grandfather came to my rescue. He sat in his rocking chair, put me in his lap, and comforted me. “We shall ‘Stay out of the way’ together.” He whispered.
His rocking chair was situated in a secluded nook by the stairs and yet had a view of the path that led to and from the kitchen. As he rocked me, it soothed my hurt feelings and nearly put me to sleep.
At last, the words we all were waiting for came – “Dinner is served!” Grandpa situated me in the highest chair as everyone gathered. The candles lit, and the huge golden turkey was brought in like a trophy for a winning team. My dad said a long prayer of thanks. At “Amen,” we knew the feast would start. And what a feast it was! Mother filled my plate with little bits of everything – turkey – white and dark meat, mashed potatoes with yummy gravy, vegetables of all types, and my favorites watermelon pickles and black olives. All washed down with a big glass of cold milk. I was not a picky eater at all. Everything seemed wonderful to me! I ate until I was bursting. By consensus, the family agreed that dessert would be put off for a while.
Grandpa and I withdrew to his rocking chair and soon were snoozing as my mom, and older sisters helped to clean the table and wash the dishes. Later in the afternoon, we had the pies – my mother’s pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream, and my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. (Which to this very day I have never tasted anything as good as that lemon meringue pie!)
Despite my hurt feelings and natural, childlike resentment of ‘staying out of the way,’ the day was to be remembered as one of my favorite holidays at my Grandparents’ house.