Thanksgiving Is More Than Just a Meal
I have great memories of Thanksgiving, and most of them involve my mother in an apron, doing just about everything. Oh, I sure do miss her.
My Dad would help her get the turkey into and out of the oven, and he’d carve. He’d cut up the turnip, too: a job for a man, and maybe his chainsaw. My sister Irene and me would peel the potatoes and stuff the celery with cream cheese, sprinkling a little paprika on top. But my mother did all the rest.
Mom kept a little notebook for as long as I can remember, with details about every holiday we celebrated. Like, you could look up Thanksgiving 1967 and see how much turkey cost per pound, how big that turkey was, who was there, what the weather was like, you name it.
Mom would set the table the day before, and get out all the serving dishes. In each dish, she’d put the serving spoon beside a little piece of paper with “sweet potatoes,” “cranberry sauce,” “rolls” or “stuffing” written on it. That way you don’t forget something in the rush to get everything on the table.
The first year after my mother died, we had Thanksgiving at our house, and to be honest, I really didn’t enjoy it. I know some people do, like my sister Irene. But our double-wide just ain’t wide enough. People jammed into the kitchen, making gravy and carving the turkey. Mashing the potatoes, carrot & turnip medley, the butternut squash. Putting baby peas in a white sauce into those little puff pastry shells. Everyone frantic to get it all done at the same time: too stressful. Ever since that first year, we’ve had Thanksgiving at Irene’s, and I help out. That’s my favorite part now: puttering around and giggling with Irene. And the left-overs.
Irene says, “Ida, whatever you do, don’t forget to make the Jell-O mold salad.” That’s one of the things we giggle about. I do the Jell-O mold salad at Thanksgiving because I inherited the mold that’s shaped like a turkey. Irene makes it at Christmas in the wreath shape mold.
Mom’s Jell-O mold salad’s got to be the easiest thing in the world to make. It’s just Jell-O of course, fruit cocktail, miniature marshmallows, cream cheese and Cool Whip. “Molded cuisine,” my niece Caitlin calls it. Nobody actually likes the salad, but we all put a little on our plate. Dad usually takes a bite of it, out of loyalty to Mom.
I don’t think she made up the recipe, but at some point Mom wrote it down on a piece of yellow lined paper, which by now is full of orange Jell-O stains, smudging out some of the words. Truth be told, I know the recipe by heart, but I still get it out, and put it on the counter. It’s the weirdest thing. I can see photos of my mother, and it affects me, but not as much as seeing her handwriting in the margin of a book or on a recipe. That, that gets me. It’s tangible proof that she was here.
But so is the sound of my voice when I open the oven and say, “How’s Tom Turkey doing?” And the way Irene looks standing at the sink with her apron on, peeling potatoes; the hitch in my Dad’s voice as he’s saying grace before dinner and the pride in his eyes as he looks at us at all gathered ‘round the table.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here.)