Niagara Gazette

November 20, 2012

BRADBERRY: Thanks for the feast, great memories

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — As far back as I can remember, I have always been impressed by the amount of time it takes to prepare a really good Thanksgiving dinner, and how relatively very little time it takes to consume it.

Just the thought of Thanksgiving conjures up sharp memories of the grand feast at our family’s huge dining room table, the giant stuffed turkey at the center, surrounded by platters and bowls heaped high with mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread stuffing, home grown collard greens, green beans, and all sorts of side dishes, and garnishes.

Behind us on the buffet lay an assortment of sweet potato pies, apple pies, peach cobbler, pound cakes, red velvet cakes, the rich caramelized pineapple upside-down cake and, of course, the much maligned, very unpopular, but mandatory fruit cake, which, Dad and I particularly favored.

Even with both of the expansion leafs, there wasn’t enough elbow room for everyone at the big table, so a smaller, but equally elegantly set smaller “kid’s table” complete with a linen table cloth, real starched napkins, fine china and polished silver was put up right next to the big table, fully integrating everyone into the dinner.

Having already settled any disputes about who was sitting where, and who got which piece of the turkey, we were all on our best behavior; no elbows on the table, no talking with food in our mouth, no shouting, fussing, arguing or fighting would be tolerated; violators could be invited to sit alone in the living-room, risking the possibility of missing out on desert. I don’t think that ever actually happened, the mere thought of it was sufficient to keep us in line.

After all, Mom had employed all of us in the preparation which had begun days earlier, and for some dishes, weeks ago.

In fact, it had taken months of planning and preparation for the big moment to arrive signaling the official beginning of the meal. We’d bow our head while Dad said grace, giving thanks to God and his family for making it possible for that special moment to arrive on schedule, always at precisely three o’clock sharp.

But Mom had actually begun the whole process back during planting season in early spring when she and Dad laid out the backyard garden. They knew then that some of those collard greens and green beans that we were planting would wind up on the Thanksgiving table.

They knew at harvest time that some of the mason jars that my sisters were filling with those special home grown beans would be set aside on the basement shelves, not to be mixed up with the dozens of others filled with beans we bought from the farms not to be touched until Mom gave the order on Thanksgiving Day to go and get them. Sometimes weeks before the grand feast, she’d start baking.

We’d pile in the door, peeling off our heavy coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, warn out and hungry from a long hard day at school, exhausted after the long hike in the bitter cold, excited to be home, in a house saturated with love and filled with the aroma of heavy butter-laden pound cakes and pies of all sorts, most of which could be touched until Thanksgiving Day, forced to eat steaming hot homemade chicken noodle soup instead.

It was delightful torture, well worth the wait; a sublime lesson about patience.

At the kids’ table, we rambled on about Christmas. In those days, there was no official “Black Friday,” we knew that the shopping season did not start until after Thanksgiving was over, a tradition we should all try to hang on to.

Let’s not turn this family holiday into just another excuse to go shopping; there’ll be plenty of time for that!

Meanwhile, at the Big Table, adults rambled on about the economy, war, taxes, the past, the future and politics. They repeated old stories over and over again about family fortunes and misfortunes, about opportunities gained and lost, about the importance of paying attention at school, getting a good education, staying out of trouble and some day owning our own businesses and our own homes at which point we at the kids’ table were invariably quieted and sternly directed to listen, “Did you hear me?” they demand.

“Yes, we heard you …”we’d echo in harmony, and laugh, but the message was clear, “stay in school, stay out of trouble.”

And on Thanksgiving Eve, the next year, keeping the tradition alive, at exactly midnight, or thereabouts she and Dad would slide that big stuffed bird into the oven and, as we slept, they talked long into the night about their dreams for their children while the turkey basted in its own juices flavoring our dreams, promising and delivering the finest Thanksgiving dinners ever, and for me, decades later, the most delightful memories possible.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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