Thanksgiving as a kid meant turkey. What else mattered?
I mean, really, Thanksgiving was kind of boring for a kid. Yeah, we got an extra-long weekend but most years there still wasn’t enough snow to go sliding. And Christmas, which really meant something, was still an eternity away.
We were reminded to think of all the things we were thankful for. The standard list included God, family, friends, school, health and food. My personal list included toys and summer vacation. We were also thankful when Dad’s Thanksgiving prayer ended and we could finally eat. But we were used to that because every morning at breakfast he read a Bible verse and said a prayer that always ended with “and bless this food to our bodies’ strength,” which was our cue to collectively recite The Lord’s Prayer. We were in sync when food was waiting.
I knew that the Thanksgiving meal was a lot of work, mostly for moms who did everything back then. However, I think Mom enjoyed Thanksgiving because she got to cook enormous amounts of food and tell us to “eat ‘til ya bust!” The more she cooked, the better. As kids, we were mostly interested in how big the turkey was and if it had the cool pop-up timer to indicate when it was done.
A 20-pound turkey was really a triumph 60 years ago. I don’t think turkey farms had the magic growth feed they do now. We were, of course, disappointed that Mom, always trying to save money, bought a store brand that didn’t include the pop-up timer and was only 18 pounds. I suppose the timer was unnecessary since our oven door didn’t have a window and it wasn’t wise to open the open door often.
The size of the turkey was important so we could be assured of leftovers. We knew her legendary mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing would be perfect as always, and in copious quantities. But she made mashed potatoes and gravy throughout the year so that was less special.
Mom always made much more than just the staples. There was always at least a couple pumpkin and pecan pies, topped of course with whipped cream. That is until Cool Whip was invented. Then we not only consumed that chemical treat but the containers were saved by the dozen for, you guessed it, leftovers. A real win-win. It’s also a win if you have the most containers when you die.
At some point the Thanksgiving meal started to include green bean casserole, an invention of the 1950s. It was good but we also knew that it would be good as a leftover, along with everything else. So we concentrated on the turkey. Leftover turkey is fabulous, but since there was no certainty of a lot of it remaining for leftovers, it had our full attention.
We never ate the meal as we were supposed to. We started eating the condiments as we helped set the table. They included carrots, celery, radishes and various types of pickles. We were careful when selecting which pickles to eat because one kind could be sweet and the other one sour. And then there were the beet pickles that I avoided altogether. We dipped into the cranberry sauce which was supposed to be eaten with the turkey.
The fact that we even ate these condiments when turkey was on the way was because we were starving. After all, it was almost noon and the aroma of a turkey roasting for four hours was killing us. In an effort to speed things up, we even willingly helped peel the potatoes, which took a lot longer than our youthful experience could remember. And I don’t think it speeded things up.
Catherine said that Thanksgiving and Easter dinners at her grandmother’s house were exactly the same. The food was the same. Yes, they had turkey for Easter. The only way to tell them apart was that the salt and pepper shakers were turkeys for Thanksgiving and rabbits for Easter. Her grandmother special ordered a 20-pound turkey to be sure she got one.
Catherine also reminded me of all the Thanksgivings we ate two meals when we were first married – one on each side of our families. There weren’t enough hours between the meals to make room, so we felt as stuffed as the turkeys. I read somewhere that it would take a man 10 hours to wear off a Thanksgiving meal on a treadmill.
The events surrounding the meal included the Thanksgiving Day parades and afternoon football games. But as a kid, watching a parade on a tiny, snowy black and white screen did not hold our attention long. And football games? The Vikings were just a new franchise back then and pro sports hadn’t caught on in any big way yet. So we went outdoors to run around on the frozen ground under a gray sky, wondering when the first big snowfall would arrive.
Thanksgiving is probably still mostly boring to kids, although they can retreat to their bedrooms to play computer games. Today, a turkey can be prepared in multiple ways including smoked and deep-fried. Naturally, when a new way to show off cooking skills is devised, men take over. However, wise moms now are quick to promote this trend.
It gives them more time to sample the wine.