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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Third time around, but it's been a while

Thanksgiving is around the corner and with it come many traditions.  The universal Thanksgiving tradition of course is the Thanksgiving turkey.  We will have turkey as usual this Thanksgiving, but the tradition will not be the same as I remember in my youth.

When I was a child, Thanksgiving at our house held many traditions. 

The first was the traditional non-complete thawing of the bird.  Mom always bought the bird frozen.  She took it out to thaw the day before Thanksgiving.  The day before Thanksgiving was never long enough to completely thaw a 20 pound turkey.

The second tradition was the traditional four o’clock dinner being delayed until 7 o’clock because the bird was not completely thawed.  This delay was fine in that it allowed the men (everyone except mom) to watch the end of the traditional NFL football game, and the traditional trouncing of the Detroit Lions by the Bears, Packers, or Cowboys.  When dinner was ready at last, everyone was traditionally starving to death.

Despite the dinner delay, mom’s turkey was traditionally delicious.  It was never dry, never overcooked.

Along with turkey we had mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut (it was a German thing), green beans in mushroom soup mix, creamed oysters, cranberry sauce (from the can), peas, crescent rolls, gravy and mom’s special stuffing.  All this food was spread over the finest tablecloth which was adorned with silver ware, a silver gravy boat, pepper shaker and salt.  The salt was dispensed from a traditional silver tray with a cobalt blue glass insert and a tiny silver spoon.  (My Aunt Nancy once explained the reason the insert had to be cobalt blue, I don’t remember, but there is a reason.)  We never had salad, instead there was a cut glass bowl shaped perfectly to hold celery and carrot sticks.  In addition to water and wine, everyone, even the under aged family members had a glass of Taylor’s Sparkling Burgundy.

We all always dressed up for the Traditional turkey dinner which meant coats and ties.  We sat well dressed, well scrubbed, and well starving around all the food and finery, dad at the head of the table, as my mom marched in with the star of the show, the crispy skinned golden brown turkey.

The house was filled with turkey aroma as the bird was placed in front of my father.  Stomachs rumbling, we watched in awe as the traditional carving of the bird began. 

Dad started the process by slowly and than in ever increasing speed clinking the knife with the sharpener like an Errol Flynn sword fight.  When he was done, he plucked a non-existent hair from his bald pate and faked splitting the fake hair down the middle.  Everyone laughed at this traditional carver’s joke, a joke done by my grandfather, and his father before him.

My father never stood up to carve the bird, he remained seated and in control.  First he cut the wings, then the legs and thighs, placing them on a separate plate.  He went on to cut the breast, saving a bit of the crispy skin for everyone. The oyster, the juicy dark meat under the bird behind the thigh was saved for the master carver. Each serving was cut to order.  “White, dark, or a little of both?” was asked of everyone.  

Each plate was then passed around and covered with potatoes, beans, creamed oysters and rolls. It was finally placed in front of a starving family member who was forced to wait until everyone at the table was served.  Each diner waited eagerly in front of his dish like a dog commanded to stay…stay…stay…until the last member had a plate in front of him and mom nodded her head; there was an eight second blessing, and we were all turned loose.    

The ensuing carnage was followed with pie (choice of apple, pumpkin or mince) and vanilla ice cream (Breyer’s with the specks of vanilla bean).

Thanksgiving weekend was celebrated with more football, and the traditional turkey, mayo, cranberry sauce and stuffing sandwiches.

Thanksgivings have changed since the dinners of my youth. The finery at the table is not quite as fine, the dinner is on time and the end of the Detroit Lions mismatch is missed.  I carve the bird before the family is called to the table.  I carve standing up and with much grunting, sweating and occasional swearing.  The traditional carver’s skill was not passed on to me. 

Dinner is served buffet style.  Family members are still starved, dress is less formal and the agonizing carving wait is gone.

The turkey is still traditionally moist and delicious, and I am still traditionally thankful for the friends and family that enjoy it together.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.                  


  1. That's my favorite sandwich in the whole world!!

  2. enjoyed your memories - especially the splitting the hair.

  3. It must have been wonderful, what a shame we don't have the same traditions in the UK. Even Christmas celebrations are a thing of the past in many families.

  4. So.. remembering the same traditions... We now have turkey dinner the Sunday before.. and go out for burgers at Houlihan's Thanksgiving Day .. Grandma dn Grandpa would NOT be happy

  5. Sounds like what we used to do many years ago and then the transition to buffet. Same thing happened to us. Now we don't do it at all. Tomorrow we're going on a Thanksgiving day train ride into the foothills and enjoy our wine and a lovely turkey dinner. So, we are starting a new way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

    Have a fabulous day and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours Joe. ♥

  6. Aunt Nancy was your aunt too :) Thanksgiving was a BIG deal at our house when we were growing up.
    We worked off the turkey that afternoon but putting up Christmas decorations inside and outside the house.

  7. Come on, now; the tradition of Lion trouncings didn't really begin until sometime in the 70s, when I was a young man, and you were, um, older than me. . . ;)

    I recognized an awful lot of your menu (creamed oysters? must be an east-coast thing); we always had squash, not peas. Was the cranberry sauce the jelly stuff, or the chunky stuff with whole cranberries in it?

    I don't remember if we wore ties or not, but it was most definitely 'festive' garb, not jeans, or even school clothes

  8. My mom was not a homemade anything type of person. I've written posts in the past about the sadness of our Stovetop Stuffing sort of holiday. She was of the generation that was brainwashed into thinking formula was better than breast milk and it carried over into everything else.

    I survived!

  9. I felt like I was right there at your table! My growing-up TGs were similar, except, due to the swearing, daddy carved the turkey in the kitchen. Mom brought it out, smiling away as if that never happened!
    I used to make a fabulous stuffing - a Williams-Sonoma recipe using their French chestnuts and home made corn bread. Until I overheard my then-teenage daughter whining to grandma that she never gets the "good stuffing" that her friends do - Stove Top!
    We all, try, I guess! Happy Thanksgiving, Joe!

  10. Your story reminds me of the time a few years ago when we had several couples over for Thanksgiving and everyone was shocked when Mrs. C. called everyone to the table at precisely 4:00, which was when she'd announced dinner would be served. Mrs. C. is a general in the kitchen and she's remarkably organized.

    At my request, we no longer roast an entire turkey; now, we just have a fresh turkey breast. It still has bones and skin to turn golden brown, but we don't end up with tons of meat and a dead bird in our fridge. Happy Thanksgiving.

  11. Happy Thanksgiving! The one who traditionally had to wash all of that finery is glad we now use paper plates.

  12. My memories are pretty similar to yours, including the cranberry sauce from a can. Now my daughter makes Thanksgiving dinner with some contributions from my husband. My contribution was passing along my mother's wonderful stuffing recipe, and setting the table for many years. Now I don't even do that, and our daughter packs up some leftovers so we can have turkey sandwiches on Friday. Ah, traditions.

  13. Loved hearing about your traditions! Since I didn't grow up with Thanksgiving, I just collected traditions along the way after I came to the States. Ours include the turkey and all the usual foods, plus a few new-traditional ones (I'm a fairly decent cook, plus we love eating leftovers for the rest of the weekend). And we always watch the movie "Trains, Planes, and Automobiles."

  14. I'm doing the whole meal for the first time this year. So far, everything's under control. I have a list of times to feed the oven Thursday. We are using real plates and glasses per the request of my college son Genius. Who is not the one to wash them by hand. He will probably miss the individual compartments from the foam trays his grandma used.

  15. The Oyster! I always wondered what that juicy little dark bit was called. We don't eat turkey, but that's my favourite part of the chicken.
    Tradition sure has changed at your place. Does that mean it can no longer be called traditional? Or is it the new tradition?

  16. A very nice tradition you had/have. Ours was similar, except we had Southern Cornbread Dressing and pecan pie, and our attire wasn't a fine as yours. (The men revolted!)

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Joe. :)

  17. I love reading Thanksgiving memories. Thanks, Joe! And a Very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  18. Well said and all I can say is "ditto."