Traditions Remembered, If Not Kept This Year
I don’t come from a big family, so there was no trouble fitting around the dining room table on holidays. Thanksgiving dinner included just my parents, maternal grandparents and me and an occasional relative or two.
Even so, the day was heralded with great pageantry, or as much as we could muster in a row house with a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet and an oven barely large enough for a baking dish.
I always said I didn’t learn to cook as a child, because our kitchen wasn’t big enough for more than one person. Truth be know, my interest ran more to baseball and books than food preparation.
Only the Best
Like Christmas, Thanksgiving was a day that called for using the accumulated finery that working people stored away for such occasions. One of my assignments was to set the table with a full array of silver, china and crystal.
Mama’s silver pattern was called Fragrance and over the years she’d added to it piece-by-piece until she had eight place settings. (Sorry, Mama, but the Noritake and the Reed and Barton are packed away—somewhere.)
I’d begin by pulling the thick, folding pad from behind the buffet and positioning it onto the mahogany dining table. Mama had already ironed the white linen tablecloth and napkins, a task too delicate to be entrusted to me.
“Be Careful with the Crystal, Jean”
This being a special occasion meant we’d most often be drinking from the crystal glassware rather than the multi-colored set of aluminum tumblers we used every day.
I’d retrieve each piece from the glass-front china cabinet, where fine items were kept on year-round display. I loved the way the fragile stems felt as I rotated each in my hand and the ringing sound the glass made when tapped with a spoon.
Dealing with a Dead Bird
From the kitchen, Mama would invariably call out a warning for me to be more cautious handling such costly stemware, which, she reminded me, would be mine someday to set my own Thanksgiving table.
At the time, I couldn’t envision ever celebrating Thanksgiving without Mama in the kitchen. No way would I ever go one-on-one with a dead bird, running my arm into its icy cavity to fetch parts and pieces for giblet gravy. Yuck!
Pushing those thoughts aside, I’d count out the Noritake china plates. I’d remove the sterling silverware from its cloth-lined, wooden chest, check it for any signs of tarnish, and polish each piece until it gleamed.
A Rockwellian Setting
As the noon hour approached, without being told, I’d don my church-going clothes. My father and grandfather would put aside their usual work attire for a tie, well-starched shirt and cardigan. They looked like Mr. Rogers long before he ever had a television show. Ours was a holiday table as Rockwellian as it gets.
The Spoon Bread
The last dish from the oven was always spoon bread, a puffy, eggy, cornmeal and flour mixture that melted in your mouth. The delicate dish was served only at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
After Mama’s death, I found the recipe among her many cookbooks and kitchen notes. The handwritten card was yellowed with age and stains of batter dropped during those meals of yesteryear. I have tried to replicate the dish, but no matter how hard I try my spoon bread never matches my memories.
A Gathering of Thankful Hearts
This year my Thanksgiving has been scaled back to three. Quite a reduction from our usual 30-40 gathering of family and friends.
It will be like no other Thanksgiving in my lifetime—with the exception of that time when I had the flu and could only keep down chicken soup and crackers.
Sadly, our holiday gathering will not be around a table with as many loved one this year. But wherever we are, the important thing is that we celebrate safely and with grateful and hopeful hearts.