Thanksgiving…one of our most underrated holidays…is in a couple of days. I am looking forward to a pleasant afternoon with family, food, & a little football. I’ll probably watch the Macy’s Parade in the morning and then watch the 1987 classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles later in the evening. It will be a lovely day…certainly not a bad way to spend one’s time. But it can never be like it once was.
My friend The Owl and I have talked a few times about transitions. There is a progression…one that we define as normal…throughout life. A person grows from a baby to a child to a teenager to an adult. Everyone advances from one grade in school to another until graduation, then maybe they go to college, and then finally enter the workforce. Many move away from their hometown to a different city…maybe even another state or country. And most folks get married and have children. Now I do not need or want any kind of sympathy…that’s not what this is about. But since I have not gotten married or fathered children the significance of these transitions has become clearer to me. It makes a lot of sense really. Having children and then eventually grandchildren allows people to see things thru new eyes and re-experience fond memories with a slightly different twist. Not having the prism of new generations to look thru means that individuals like myself only have our memories. It means that things change but they don’t really evolve. It is what it is and that’s fine, but I can’t help but fondly recall the Thanksgivings of my childhood………..
My maternal grandmother…Grandma Pigott…lived in town about 20 minutes from our house. She didn’t drive so my Mom or Dad would pick her up (I did the honors a few times when I was older) and bring her to our house the day before and she’d spend the night. She & my mother got up really early on Thanksgiving Day…about 5 or 6am…and put the turkey in the oven. Then they began fixing all the other accoutrements…sweet potatoes, rolls, green beans, corn, extra stuffing besides what was in the turkey, and of course pumpkin pie. By the time I woke up around 8 or 9am the whole house smelled awesome. You know what a house smells like on Thanksgiving. One never forgets that unique scent.
During my formative years in the 1970’s & 80’s our entertainment options were pretty limited…atleast by today’s standards. Television didn’t have 300 channels. Video games didn’t become popular until I was almost a teenager and I never really got into gaming anyway. We didn’t have The Internet or smartphones. So I am not ashamed to admit that I looked forward to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Back then I seem to recall that it was hosted by people like Ed McMahon, Bryant Gumbel, & Willard Scott. I always liked ol’ Willard. At any rate, as I got older I began to comprehend how corny the parade really is, and remember being shocked & disappointed when I realized that those people weren’t really singing…they were lip synching!! The horror!!!! But I never stopped watching. I still enjoy watching, although now it’s kind of a nostalgia thing because no matter what kind of new characters they make balloons out of or how many young pop stars are trotted out to make the show seem hip the truth is that it is essentially the same parade it’s always been and that’s just fine with me.
I don’t recall what my father or sister were doing while I was watching the parade. My Dad was probably outside doing something manly. My sister was never the domestic type…especially as a teenager…so, while many girls might have been in the kitchen helping Mom & Grandma prepare the feast, I think she stayed holed up in her room being anti-social. Don’t worry though…she became friendlier as an adult. Actually I was more likely to be in the kitchen asking if I could help. If I was as interested in such things now as I was 35 years ago I’d make someone a heck of a husband.
The parade always ended at noon (still does) and in our house that meant dinner wasn’t too far away. We normally ate supper about 5 or 6pm on most evenings, but on Thanksgiving Day the meal was ready by 1 or 2pm. Not long after the parade was over my paternal grandparents…Papaw & Mamaw Mano…would arrive. They lived “up the holler” just a couple of miles from us. Now I don’t recall if they brought anything else (they probably did), but one thing I do know for sure…Grandma Mano always made chocolate cream pie, and she made it from scratch…even the crust. To this day I have never eaten a pie as good, and I doubt that I ever will.
By this time football was on. There were always two games back then. The Dallas Cowboys played in one and the Detroit Lions played in the other. Their opponents varied from year to year. I am certainly not a Cowboys fan, and at that time I’m pretty sure no one outside of the Motor City gave a darn about the Lions, but it was football and one doesn’t pass up an opportunity to watch football. NBC aired AFC games and the pre-game show was hosted by Bryant Gumbel before he left for the Today Show, as well as folks like Bob Costas, Len Berman, Paul Maguire, Ahmad Rashad, & a few others, while the games were called by legends like Dick Enberg, Don Criqui, Bob Trumpy, Marv Albert, & Merlin Olsen. CBS aired NFC games and their pre-game show had Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, the lovely Phyllis George, & Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, with games being called by…well, I’m sure there were several announcers but the team I remember best is Pat Summerall & John Madden. At any rate, the games themselves were rarely memorable and unless the Steelers were playing I didn’t really care one way or another, but football was & is an undeniable part of the Thanksgiving tradition.
I never really got to watch much of the early football game because soon enough dinner was ready. My mother and grandmothers would do the last minute preparations and my sister & I were sometimes recruited to “set the table”, i.e. put out all the plates, bowls, glasses, & silverware. Our kitchen table wasn’t quite big enough for 7 people, but that was easily handled by my father inserting a “leaf”, the one & only time during the year this was necessary.
We never made a big deal out of the head of the family theatrically wielding a large knife and carving the turkey while giving some kind of grandiose speech. I think that only happens on TV & in movies. Usually Mom or my grandmother would just cut it into pieces before it ever made it to the table. We had mashed potatoes & gravy (both of my grandmothers made awesome gravy), green beans (not that casserole stuff with crunchy onions), corn, rolls, traditional stuffing, & iced tea. I was never a fan of sweet potatoes as a kid and usually passed on them, although now I really like sweet potatoes. I believe we oftentimes had deviled eggs as well. I don’t recall cranberry sauce being a central part of our meal. It could be that no one made it or it is possible that it is something at which I turned up my nose and blocked out of my memory. I’m still not a fan of cranberry sauce, mostly because I’m not sure why it’s there or how one is supposed to consume it. Am I supposed to eat it with a spoon?? Do I spread it on my roll like jam?? Is one supposed to dip turkey in it?? I honestly have no idea.
After saying grace we engaged in polite conversation during the meal, but there was a lot of “pass the rolls please”, “may I have some more potatoes”, “I need some more tea”, & “Mom this stuffing is really good”. What can I say…we had our priorities straight and the focus was on the awesome meal in front of our faces. I usually ate like a pig, not giving a second thought to children in Third World countries who probably hadn’t eaten as much in a month as I was scarfing down in one sitting. That’s the beauty of childhood…complete self-involvement without a care of what is happening outside one’s own little bubble. After dinner the turkey looked like it had been car bombed by the mafia and I was ready for dessert. Two pieces of pie for this kid…pumpkin & chocolate, both smothered in Cool Whip (not that crap in a spray can).
The post-dinner festivities were in our living room. I usually tried to watch some football, and I think my Dad and grandfather may have taken a little nap (damn tryptophan) while the ladies were in the kitchen cleaning up and doing dishes. Old-fashioned?? Unevolved?? Misogynistic?? Ehhh…I suppose some people may have that opinion, but it was the way it was. At some point the cleanup was over and we all sat together in the living room…me, my parents, my sister, & my grandparents. That’s what I remember most of all. It’s the memory that makes me happiest & saddest at the same time. I can always eat. I’ve never not had access to food. But those seven people will never be in a room together again. I’ve mentioned this once before in this space:
“After dinner we’d all sit in the living room and shoot the breeze, just enjoying each other’s company. As a child I would mostly just sit there and listen as the adults talked about a variety of things. Families have a certain…rhythm…whenever they talk amongst themselves. A stranger coming into the midst of the conversation probably wouldn’t give a rat’s petoot about the topics being tossed about to & fro, but if you’re in the inner circle you get it. Even kids, who probably don’t understand most of what is being said, have a comfort level with the group. It’s like a cold winter night that all the sudden becomes cozy once one slips under the warmth of a soft blanket.”
My mother passed on 14 years ago. All of my grandparents are gone. I wish that I had an hour long video of that post-meal conversation that I could just play over & over.
At some point…probably about 6 or 7pm…my paternal grandparents would go home. I would eat another piece or two of pie, this time accompanied by a tall glass of cold milk, during the evening. There weren’t any other football games and the tradition of playing Christmas movies on television hadn’t started yet (remember…we didn’t have that many channels). We definitely didn’t go shopping and weren’t preparing to do that the next day. I don’t ever remember Black Friday even being a thing when I was a child. So we just relaxed and enjoyed our evening. What a concept, huh??
Thanksgiving was over but there was one last memory to create in the coming days. Even though the turkey had seemingly been destroyed there somehow were leftovers, and one thing we did with leftover turkey was make turkey salad. It seems to me that the task usually fell to Grandma Pigott, and she didn’t have any modern gadgets…no Magic Bullet, no Ninja, no Cuisinart, no Ultimate Chopper. What she had, and all she needed, was a big ol’ knife and a hand cranked meat grinder. It took some effort (I helped her a few times when I was a little older) but you know what…that turkey salad was spectacular and nothing one can purchase at the grocery store nowadays even comes close. She would make ham salad the same way after Christmas and it was equally as tasty.
Ahhhh those were the days. They may be gone but not forgotten. I’m thankful for the memories, thankful for my family, and thankful that I have the opportunity to forge ahead and enjoy more good times even if they’ll have a difficult time measuring up. May God bless The Manoverse this Thanksgiving.