The other day, while looking for some family photos for one of my cousins, I ran across the one below. The notation on the back, in my aunt Leora’s handwriting, says “Thanksgiving, November 22, 1951” so I was about 4 months old (looks like I’m doing yoga here–an early rendition of “fish pose”). I also recognize the kitchen as the one in my aunt and uncle’s home in West Branch, Michigan, where my mother lived as a single working girl before moving to East Tawas and meeting my father. Later, my aunt and uncle moved south to Bay City.
The significance of this picture is that it was the first, for me, of what would become an annual tradition–spending Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle and cousins. For years, we rotated, but then my aunt took duty on other holidays, and my memory–which may be faulty–was of more Thanksgivings at our house, particularly after my grandfather on my dad’s side grew older and was less able to travel.
My parents had a turkey roaster, which had its own stand and lived in the basement of our house for the one or two times a year when they cooked a turkey. My mother would make the dressing (for some reason she never called it stuffing) and my dad would supervise the “bird” as he always called it, but the gravy making was the exclusive province of Aunt Leora, who expertly made a smooth, rich gravy before the days of Wondra©. My mother often told the story of her first experience making stuffing, when she was newly married. Not knowing the ingredients, she called her mother, who was unable to direct her except to counsel “some dry bread, some butter for the pan, some onions and celery, and enough seasoning until it will taste right when it’s cooked.” Fortunately, the Betty Crocker cookbook was also there to consult, along with the Better Homes and Garden one, so my mother learned to make a stuffing whose memory lingers in my tastebuds–along with Aunt Leora’s gravy–to this day.
One year for my birthday I had gotten a tape recorder, and the younger kids congregated in the basement to record our voices and play them back. I am not sure who came up with the idea of a radio show, but this became a tradition for a few years, too. We called the radio channel “WHAM”–W-H-A-M, and one of us would grab a nearby board and whack it on a nearby table to simulate the sound. Interviews would be conducted–usually about what part of the meal we were most looking forward to–and sometimes one of us would come up with a story. But we all were there waiting for my dad to take the “bird” from the roaster to let it rest, since he usually cut the wings off first and let us sample them. (When he wasn’t looking, we also tried to sneak some stuffing from the cavity, too. )
As dinner was cooking, or sometimes afterwards before the pumpkin pie, my mother and aunt would “lie on the beds” as we kids termed it, to catch up with one another and indulge in sisterly conversation. I don’t recall on what occasion the photo below was taken, but it’s at my aunt and uncle’s house, probably some time in the 1960s or early 1970s.
I don’t remember the last time we all got together for Thanksgiving, but whenever I think of this holiday, it’s with the fond memories of these family gatherings that began when I was just a baby and continued into young adulthood. Happy Thanksgiving to all!