Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, better than Christmas.
There was, of course, the element of being the first fall holiday; when I was a kid, way back before schools had fall breaks, Thanksgiving held uncluttered glory as a four-day vacation. There was the late fall feel, inevitably chilly and cloudy and leafless, sometimes flecked with snow: the kind of weather that beckoned people inside with others. There was, mostly though, the relative simplicity: family came over (on a Thursday!), and you had a big meal, and grownups talked or played cards.
Here are scattered memories of Thanksgivings at 1122 6th Avenue, DeWitt, Iowa.
Thanksgiving was always at our house, involving a vast turkey that seemed to go in the oven at the crack of dawn or earlier, resulting in white meat the consistency of Styrofoam. It was glorious! It was turkey! Besides, I was in dark meat’s camp. There was nothing better than poaching pieces, especially skin, from the pan as the bird sat resting. Mom would look the other way for a few swipes, but then you had to sneak.
We had an electric knife, a kind of meat chainsaw, and Thanksgiving was one of the few days a year it got deployed. Have you seen an electric knife in the past decade?
Dad would peel potatoes into a huge pot of cold water, accumulating a mass of peelings onto a newspaper on the floor, usually sitting at the kitchen table. Occasionally the need to peel potatoes created urgency sufficient for Dad to miss church, a strategy I admired and envied. Usually, though, we all went to Grace Lutheran, which was two blocks from our house. We drove.
Thanksgiving has little and lousy music. “Over the River and Through the Woods” was drafted in desperation as a Thanksgiving song, though the sleigh ride really promises Christmas. The top Lutheran hit was “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” (“First the blade and then the ear/Then the full corn shall appear.”)
The more people at our house, the grander the holiday. Grandpa and Grandma Gribbon were solid mainstays; Dad was an only child, after all. My Uncle Dutch and Aunt Uvonne were reliable, too; Grandma G’s brother and wife had no children. Grandma and Grandpa Krukow at Thanksgiving was a very rare treat, as they needed to ration themselves among four kids. The all-grandparents constellation was rare, forever lost in 1965 with Grandma Krukow’s death. I was nine. So, I’m reaching back to Thanksgivings when I was but three years older than my grandson Isaac is now.
My Uncle Walt and Aunt Myra (Grandma G’s sister) occasionally came, too, and then so did my dad’s cousin Ron, his wife Sherrie, and their daughters Kelly, Carrie, and Kimberly. They lived in Davenport. Out of town company! Kids! This scenario required at least one, sometimes two card tables in the living room.
Dinner was noon or close thereunto. The evening meal was supper. Always.
Almost never did anyone in the early days watch football. We did watch the Macy’s parade, and the Mummer’s, that strange display of feathered men.
Thanksgiving dinner always include a relish tray: carrots, celery, pickles, and olives. It was the rare time that we had black olives. We kids would stick them on ends of four fingers, waving our “rings” before eating them. We would dip celery into little crystal salt cellars at each plate—the only time these ever came out.
As I got older, I often volunteered to make the whipped cream for the (always) pumpkin pie. Of course, this was a pretext for being left in the kitchen with the cream, sugar, vanilla, and a beater, the process involving so much sampling that it’s a wonder I didn’t contract Sudden Onset Diabetes. Did Mom really have no clue?
Thanksgiving was the rare day when coffee got made in the afternoon, in a big stove-top percolator into which Mom would put an egg. I really should look up this odd practice.
A couple of times Dad and Uncle Ron would go pheasant hunting in the afternoon, and I’d get to join, with my .410. We’d drive up to farms around Lost Nation where dad had spent some of his childhood. We never shot anything that I can remember, so I think the point was mostly to get out of the house. At least once, I remember we went “road hunting,” which Dad usually scorned but somehow deemed appropriate this one time; that meant driving slowly and looking for pheasants in ditches, then an elaborate ploy of driving past, stopping the car to unload shotguns, then creeping back through the ditch to flush the pheasant. But as I said, this was all theoretical, since we never shot anything, and that wasn’t the point.
When I was in junior high, I’d started working with Dad on the trash truck. The Friday after was a double-route day, two trucks in full operation, two days’ trash in one. The exciting aspect was getting to have a friend working with me, often Kirk Anderson or Joe Ryan.
The pies sat on the dryer in the laundry room, where it was cooler.
If the Davenport contingent was at Thanksgiving, right before they went home, we drew names to exchange gifts at an annual Christmas party, which revolved among homes on my Dad’s side.
But Thanksgiving was ours.