Thanksgivings past

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday: the combination of volatile–or at least unpredictable–weather, the abdication of the commercial world, the gathering of people who don’t gather much more frequently and so have interesting communication lines to learn as well as stories to share.

Last year, I spent it in Ventura. In addition to a wonderful feast and good company, there were a few surprises: beautiful sunny weather that wasn’t hot, the chance to walk along a beach and even see a dead sea lion, and finding that there was still a place that hadn’t heard about taking license with business naming. The main street was lined with used good shops raising money for charities and the shops were named for those charities: the Abused Women Shop, the Retarded Children’s Store. I have heard that in the year since, the shops have been renamed and are no longer so blatant in their cause declaration.

As I recall, the tensest Thanksgiving I’ve lived was in 1973. My brother drove to Los Angeles, from Sacramento, to cart me off for the long weekend. It’s never been a short car ride from LA to Sacramento, but this was in a Ford pick up truck (circa 1966) and we didn’t know each other much at all. The only topic of conversation I remember was his trying to convince me to transfer to UC Berkeley. And I remember being self conscious that I had to be polite but not cave. After a night in Sacramento, we drove on for another four hours or so, to Eureka. That’s where his in-laws were hosting the Thanksgiving dinner. And that day was fine, in spite of my being both a stranger and family.

For many years of my childhood, we celebrated the day with friends of my mother, a retired couple named Hill. Their house was furnished in a most spectacular fashion; E. L. Konigsburg could have made a novel of the possibilities. There was a Chinese gong in the dining room. A kind of great hall had been added to the original house and it had a shelf running around all its walls. The shelf, which was a good 6 feet from the floor, held dozens of cuckoo clocks.

Mrs. Hill clearly was the model creator for such Thanksgiving spreads as depicted by Norman Rockwell. I don’t remember any specifics beyond the shrimp cocktail–only that it went on almost endlessly, apparently effortlessly, and with an annual consistency that was itself mesmerizing.

One year, when I was about 15, we ate Thanksgiving dinner at home and invited a couple of my friends, a brother and sister who were trying to avoid dinner with parents who had gone on a drunk. What I remember of that dinner isn’t the menu at all, but the fact that absolutely no one seemed appalled that the meal was served on a tableclothed card table, with a piano bench serving as the sideboard. My mother never did develop an interest in furniture.

For some years in the late 1970’s, I do remember the food as well as the celebration. That was the era of baking little pumpkin pies and taking them on the Green Line into Boston’s more rural suburbs to find a wooded area for brunch. Then, later in the day, after other food groups had been consumed, there would be the spectacular ice cream turkey (chocolate on the outside, strawberry within) from Brookline’s Ice Cream Factory (sadly out of business for at least 20 years now).

One year, when I was living again and briefly in LA, I spent Thanksgiving with pneumonia, not quite miserable enough to be unaware that I was “missing” the holiday.

For some years when my son was young, we celebrated the day communally, with another family. Then there were the couple of years when we had it at our house and I actually had to roast a turkey, a feat I hadn’t tried in in more than 25 years and, not being a meat-eater myself, wasn’t excited about doing. We quickly downsized to drumsticks and a turkey breast, lest I kill us all with undercooked fowl.

And this year, in spite of it being a nonevent locally, it’s really been okay. I’ve realized that Thanksgiving Day, for me, has become my time to sort back through the past year and expect the new, a kind of New Year with lots of side dishes. The sides may be missing this time around, but the conversations were fine today, and there were new sights to see and people to meet. I wore my turkey socks. And I ate an apple at lunch as homage to the Waldorf salad on tables below the 49th parallel. Hey, wait, Halifax is well below the 49th….

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

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One Response to “Thanksgivings past”

  1. Yvette Says:

    Happy Turkey Day (socks and all!) We want the menu from Mrs. Hill. Surely someone out there remembers it!

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