This is not the usual sort of article I’ll be putting in my blogs for Mysterious Monday, but I wanted to give a nod to one of my favorite national holidays.
I grew up in the New England area of the United States. New England was near to bursting with the traditions of the holiday that had started on its grounds. We would decorate with sheaves of dead corn stalks and cornucopia and Indian corn and gourds of various sizes and colors, along with, of course, the many decorations I had made in school.
We would spend days getting ready for the “feast”, whether it was held at our house or the home of a relative. At our house, my dad was the cook. He would get up while it was still dark outside and prep the turkey—pulling out the giblets and setting them aside for the base to his homemade gravy, stuffing the inside with the bread stuffing he had made up the day before, and rubbing the skin with oil and herbs until it shone like the hide of a horse in a show. He would place the turkey in the big roasting pan, which was only used for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and place it carefully in the oven.
When I was old enough, I helped him in this mysterious task of prepping the festive dinner. Once we had the turkey in the oven, it was time to peel the potatoes, make the dough for the rolls, and start chopping the squash.
Once everything was prepared, and the dishes we had used to that point were washed and put away, it was time to set the table with the good china. Dad would take it down and place it on the table for me and I would carefully separate it—one plate in the center of each setting, a dinner napkin folded into a triangle placed to the left of the plate, the dinner and dessert forks laying on top of the napkin, knife and spoon on the right, an etched glass on the right above the plate. I loved setting the table that everyone would be eating at; somehow, for this holiday, it seemed different from all the other days that I had to set it.
With dinner cooking and the table set, I was allowed to go outside to play. Outside, in those early days in New Hampshire, the wind would howl and sometimes snow would fall, dancing merrily on the wind currents. I would bundle up in my longjohns, jeans, boots, a button-up cowboy shirt under a sweater, and a jacket, mittens, scarf and cap; then, it was outside to run and jump in the leaves or taste the snow as it fell to earth.
After an hour or so, I would come back inside, having had my little adventures, and Mom would have hot cocoa ready for me. The almost painful feeling of that heat enveloping me as I came in the door is still one of my favorite memories of cold weather. I would remove all of my outdoor clothes and slip on a pair of fuzzy slippers (I still love fuzzy pink or purple slippers to this day), then sit at the table while I slowly thawed out, the warmth of the cocoa on my insides and the drowsy, yummy heat of the kitchen on my outsides meeting somewhere in the middle to meld into a very contented little girl.
The smells of cinnamon from Mom’s pumpkin and squash pies would combine with the scents of cooking vegetables and—when Dad opened the oven to baste the turkey—the mouth-watering scent of a roasting bird and baking bread, to drive my poor stomach nearly insane with wanting to eat. Soon—but not soon enough—Dad would take the turkey from the oven and place it on the carving board. Mom and I would wait for those first few cuts and “sneak” some of the meat, still hot on the bird; for his part, Dad would turn his back on the “thief” and pretend to be shocked to find a piece of meat missing. Mom always said the best turkey was the bits we snuck while my dad’s back was turned.
After dinner, we would rest our poor bellies for a bit, then put away the food. We washed the dishes as a team, singing as we worked to make the chore seem lighter. If the weather was not too horrible, we would take a walk after that, to “make room” for the pies, which were still to come. Pie with whipped cream, and coffee or tea, rounded off the meal of the day and we would all wind up in various states of tryptophan-induced drowsiness while the football game played in the background on the TV.
I miss those wonderful days—the ones spent with just my parents and the later ones, when we would have Thanksgiving with my grandparents and my aunts, uncles and cousins in Connecticut. Every year, I hope and pray that our Thanksgiving in Florida will be a chilly one to recapture some of that flavor of the old days up north. It’s not quite Thanksgiving day, but it is currently 59ºF and my youngest son has just presented me with a “hand turkey” drawing that he made last night when he couldn’t sleep. The mystery of holiday traditions continues.