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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Thanksgiving in the Desert

By Marcy Belson

I have a picture in my mind of a family gathering on Thanksgiving Day, probably 1946. The War was over, food was not rationed, butter was "real." It was truly time to celebrate.

My mother invited the family for the feast. She allowed a few of the other good cooks to assist her but for the most part, it was her show and she intended it to be just that - a show.

My first job as her nine-year-old assistant was to sit at the breakfast table and polish silver. Real silver tableware, not silver plate. Heavy knives and forks. Those forks had to be cleaned between the tines; it was a morning's work with her help.

Every dish that was to be used, both for serving and the table settings, had to be wiped and checked for spots, as did the glassware.

Salt and pepper shakers were filled and wiped clean.

On the morning of the gathering of the clan, the real work began. Potatoes peeled and placed in a bath of cold water in the refrigerator. Turkey dressed and readied for the oven. Dressing waiting for the last minute stuffing into the turkey cavity. God forbid, that any one at our table be sickened by food that was not cleaned or cooked properly.

Sweet potatoes had to have exactly the right amount of brown sugar and marshmallows on their sliced tops. Always, several small trays of celery trimmed of all errant debris and filled with cream cheese plus olives and radishes.

Dessert, of course, was homemade pies - not only pumpkin but apple and cherry. My Aunt Maxine, the master chef of all pastries, would contribute an unbelievably high meringue lemon pie. My mouth waters at the memory of those pies.

In the meantime, out in the back yard, my father and his helpers - all the uncles and cousins - would be setting up card tables, picnic tables, plywood tables on sawhorses all in a long line down the middle of the yard. All the household chairs were out there looking strange and naked in that green world.

Even with all of that, it was necessary for the men to be fed first because that was the custom: men first. Then the women and children would eat. The men were back in the house having a cigar or cigarette and probably most of them were having a drink from a flask or bottle that had been hidden in a car.

When the meal was over, the dishes cleared and stacked in the kitchen and the left over food placed in the refrigerator, it was time for the photo.

The little box camera was checked for film, the family was urged to go out back again and pose for the picture.

My father had a wooden fishing boat that set next to the alley, beyond the fenced in yard with trees and grass.That area was dirt and weeds and trash cans, plus the clothes line and the boat. For some reason that year, the boat became the centerpiece of the photo shot.

There we all stood, proud and full of turkey, next to that boat. My dad knew what was important. His family and his boat.

A gathering of the clan, in more recent times:

Thanksgiving family reunion

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a wonderful clan and so many of you. I'm here in China for a short visit an there is no celebration and none of my family. I ate the usual food for dinner with my granddaughter since my husband was out with a friend sine it was just another day, but I have lots of good memories of those past wonderful family filled Thanksgivings. Bless all our familie.

Good to bring back the memories of happy times -

Marcy: Even though I come from a real small family, you helped me recall how seriously Mother and my grandmother took preparing holiday meals (and most all others, as well.) Mother used to say "It takes days and hours to prepare the meal, and it's gone in less than an hour." Then, the men went off to couches or easy chairs to nap and the women cleaned up. Nonetheless, those were wonderful, memorable days which I savor as you remind me of cleaning silver, stuffing celery, dividing up leftovers and collapsing after the guests had left. You are lucky to have pictures, I don't, and that part of my family are all gone now. I also remember we treated soldiers to holiday dinners back during WWII. One of our neighbors met her husband that way. Thanks for the memories!

I miss the days of large family gatherings and "the show" of the celebration. My hubby wants it small and simple, and it's all good, too. Still, there are days when writing like this makes me long for "the good old days."

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