It happens every Thanksgiving. After the bird is in the oven, my mind wanders back over the years when there were big family gatherings on this day. Oh, what a chore in the days preceding the big event! The tradition began even before my four children were born, but it got really interesting after I toted them along!! It was in another life time, in another marriage and a tradition that seemed difficult with the small ones, but after years of acquiring knowledge, I realize how wonderful a tradition it is to have family in one place, under one roof on at least one special day of the year.
My mother-in-law was Rowena Dunham who was the hostest with the mostest, as they say. She was a stickler for tradition and loved these holidays with a passion, but everything had to be perfecto down to the last place setting.
Let me begin by saying every year I was in charge of making the pies…if I remember , there were a total of three or four pies . My sisters -in-law, Sylvia Dunham and Elouise Howe had their assignments. Sylvia was to make her fruited jello and Elouise her infamous brownies. Grammie Dunham( a name I adopted from my kids when they came along) was in charge of everything else and had a walloping good wood stove to do it all.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we had four children, four pies, two adults and a VW bug . I cannot describe the placement of everyone and everything, but that bug carried us all safely to Lockes Mills and the Dunham household. It also allowed me to turn almost completely around to deliver several messages to the fabulous four in the back seat on behavioral policies for the day.
Never before nor since have I ever tasted rolls as sweet and light and fluffy as Grammie made. I have the recipe and I might as well toss it out the window. They are just not the same. I have always believed she put the love she felt for her family right in there with the yeast and the flour.
There was a tremendous table with a gorgeous tablecloth awaiting the hungry and eager. The best of china had been taken from the corner closet and gleamed. The turkey was taken out the oven at precisely the right time, so that when one entered the door, he was hit with that absolutely delicious smell to make the stomach growl even a bit more.
I was always the one with the small babies and not being familiar with semi-formal family gatherings in my childhood, I was a bit nervous. Debra was a mere 5 months at her initial gathering; the next year she was 17 months and Brian was 5 months. Grammie always had a couch and a day bed ready for her precious grandchildren and how she did love them! The third year , just to make it interesting, Gary came along , at the age of 6 weeks , to make the mix more interesting. How she laughed when he lay on the sofa, kicking his legs and she said he never stopped smiling! Less than two years later, Alan joined the festivities.
There were mashed potatoes, Gram’s rolls, salads, stuffing, turkey and peas. Always peas. Those little green veggies gave us all a memory we still chuckle about on this day. The entire Dunham families and Howe family were seated at the table and suddenly Gram stood up, as if in shock. All heads swiveled to see, as usually once seated, servings began. Her hands went in the air and she said, “Oh, No!” We could not imagine as she swirled, housedress flying, to the kitchen. “I forgot the peas,” she cried. She returned , dish in hand, tears in her eyes. For someone who wanted everything perfect for her family, this was catastrophic. She was so upset that several of us assured her that we could still add them to our already overpacked plates.
It was not a formal setting and yet there were unspoken rules when it came to the dining. I think my childrens’ father probably created the biggest stir; my children will agree that none of us ever believed that he would be the rule breaker at the Thanksgiving feast. As I said, the table was big and very long and someone asked for a roll. Usually, the dish would be passed, but as it were, the rolls were in front of him. He reached down, grabbed a roll and tossed it the length of the table to the receiver. I have no idea whether he thought he was back on the baseball field pitching or what went through his mind, but just as quickly, he resumed his eating. There was a collective gasp as the roll sailed through the air.
Memories. A grandmother who absolutely adored her family and enjoyed the role of matriach. A grandmother who actually sat back and watched her daughter and two daughters-in-law clean up and do the dishes after the feast. A grandmother who occupied a chair in the dining room in full view of her china cabinet to make sure each precious piece of china was put back in its rightful place for the next feast.
She loved her grandchildren beyond words. Only good people can make you feel warm with memories on Thanksgiving Day. …and I have always given thanks for her help and her blessings.