When I was growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was as traditional as they come with dozens of relatives—grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins—gathering at my folks’ house. Mom always “fixed” the turkey, making the stuffing to fill the large cavity in the bird. I remember mom and an aunt giggling over whether the dressing should be “wet” or dry—“wet” to them having a urinary meaning. (If you don’t get the humor, I didn’t either.)
Along with the turkey in the oven, went sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, which today makes my stomach churn at the thought of all that sugary stuff. Vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, jelled cranberries and of course pumpkin and mincemeat pies were part of the big meal.
Only adults gathered around the large table in the dining room, while all of the “kids” were sent to a table set up in the finished basement. I forget at what age we were allowed to join the adults—probably as teens.
After dinner, an uncle—Mom’s eldest brother—would come down to the basement to tease the “kids,” roughing up the boys and tickling the girls. For some reason, his rough stuff kind of frightened me. He was never harmful but just had a country bumpkin style of playfulness. (He was a good ol’ Swedish farmer, working the land and handling the animals on the Anderson farm outside Zion, Illinois.
Another after-dinner remembrance, involves my paternal grandfather, a Scot-Irishman Charles McGarrahan. He let me accompany him on a walk, which he liked to take after a big meal. Grandpa Mc had a walking stick that he used as we plodded through a meadow and into a leafy woods, then back again to my folks’ place. Nothing really remarkable about that—just nice and peaceful.
When I left home in 1947 for college in DeKalb, Illinois, I returned for the Thanksgiving holiday and tradition. Accompanying me was Art Gay, fellow student and boyfriend, plus two other students heading back to Zion. Art drove his car (a 1930s model Ford) that had an outside rack to hold our suitcases. As we rolled along, we began to smell smoke, like a pile of leaves burning somewhere. Unfortunately, the smoke was coming from the rear of the car—Art’s suitcase was on fire!
To make a long story short, the other luggage and the vintage car were saved and we all ended up safely in Zion. But Art had no clothes except those he was wearing. And he was meeting my folks for the first time. After all the introductions, my dad took a good look at Art, went to his clothes closet and brought out a perfect fit of clothing for the guy who would soon be my husband. It was kind of a family induction—a Thanksgiving debut complete with the traditional dinner.