By Terry Donnelly
Last week was Thanksgiving and for many of us, including me, that’s the gateway to the holiday season. There are nearly two dozen religious and secular holidays celebrated every year between the middle of November and the middle of January. I respect all of them and celebrate a few. Thanksgiving has always kicked-off the festivities for my family.
Don’t you dare mess with the holiday menu! It has to be turkey. Not a goose, not a capon, not a turducken, not quail grilled from a morning hunt (although that does sound good), and certainly not ham––a turkey roasted with the stuffing inside the bird. I know the health hazard. I know the ease and swiftness of deep-frying. I’m not swayed. I like it the old way. I must add an aside here about deep-frying the bird creating those family memories. When the turkey isn’t fully thawed and is dipped into bubbling oil, it creates a huge explosion. That seems like a story to be passed down. But, I’ll settle for the pastoral, Norman Rockwell scene of family around the table rather than one having the fire department and bomb squad joining the Kodak moment.
Back to the menu. Over the years I’ve learned to like real cranberries, but I’m still drawn to the congealed mass with the ridges from the tin-can still showing while shimmering, intact, on the serving plate. Tacky, but part of the package. Ambrosia salad is our one tradition that may vary from the ideal. Ambrosia is a creamy mass of grapes (painstakingly halved and pitted––often my job), pineapple, mandarin oranges, coconut, marshmallow, and a handful of other ingredients that serve to cleanse the palate. Of course, I’ve also learned that that’s the purpose of wine. I’m torn on this. I can drink wine anytime––including Thanksgiving. One cannot ever have too cleansed a palate. Our 14-year-old granddaughter requested ambrosia this year, so it remains a staple. Thank goodness for old-souls like her who value traditions.
My pie of choice is pumpkin. Mrs. Making-Sentences likes chocolate. This doesn’t create strife, there are simply two pies. I only add this because I’m starting to salivate writing about all this food.
It’s all about tradition. Thanksgiving may be the day we start looking forward to holiday fun and excitement, but its importance rests in being able to look back and retell stories that make families unique. The story I’d like to share here involves food but not like any I’ve outlined above. It takes an anomaly to forge a memory and here’s the Thanksgiving that sticks in my mind.
In 1955 my family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. We’d add a sister a few years later, but at this juncture it was four of us. The rest of the family lived in Detroit. That’s a trip of about 150 miles. In 1955 the trip took much longer than today. The main reason was that President Eisenhower hadn’t worked his magic and finished the interstate highway system. We still had to travel on two-lane roads that went through the middle of every burgh along the way. So, it was an adventure to meander across three-fourths the width of the state to visit relatives.
Dad and Mom were preparing the days before Thanksgiving to make that trek. Our weekend’s worth of belongings sat packed by the door ready to add toothbrushes in the morning. We went to bed Wednesday night ready to head out early Thursday. Alas, we awoke to a Michigan, “lake effect” snow storm. We had accumulated many inches overnight and there was little chance it was going to stop anytime soon. Hope springs eternal, and Dad didn’t give up easily. He looked out the window at our appointed departure time. He looked again an hour later, then again. It became clear that we were not going to drive to Detroit on this Thanksgiving Day. The Lions would be on television, but that was small consolation from not being able to hang-out with my cousins and see Grandma and Grandpa. Rats.
Those days non-essential workers celebrated at home and were not` forced into work. That included local restaurants. Nothing was open beyond a corner market or two. Having planned to be away for four days, Mom had all the left-overs and fresh food eaten and out of the refrigerator. She was preparing for the trip, and we didn’t need any food anyway, so she didn’t make her normal trip to the grocery store. We had nada in the house, certainly not a turkey and all the fixin’s.
The day wore on, the Lions likely won the game against the Green Bay Packers. It started getting dark, and we started to get hungry. Snow had gotten deep and getting around would be iffy. But heck, we were Michiganders. We could drive downtown. Dad thought the big hotel would be serving dinner. We headed there. Nope. Closed. Circling the area made it clear nothing was open that would serve up a hot meal.
Discouraged and definitely hungry, we headed home. Along the way we found a small market open and about to close. We got cans of tomato soup, some bread, and, wouldn’t you know it, they were sold out of turkey lunchmeat, so we settled for ham. Our Thanksgiving meal to remember was tomato soup and ham sandwiches. Not the original plan, but we were safe, warm, and thankful.
Mrs. Making-Sentences and I wish you all a happy launch into your holiday season.
Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher. He taught in public schools in Kentucky, Michigan, and Colorado. He was an adjunct faculty member instructing teachers and teacher trainees at Michigan State University, University of Colorado, and Adams State College in Colorado.