Thanksgiving Day always stirs up memories of good food and family gatherings filled with laughter.
The night before, my grandmother would make sweet potato pies. At first, I was too young and then later on too slow, to peel potatoes. I spent a lot of time peeking into bowls while she mashed together the hot, boiled potatoes, butter, brown sugar and a bit of vanilla extract. I never saw her measure a thing.
While the sweet potatoes were boiling, she made the dough for the pie crusts. She would put the crust in the pie pan and my job was to use a fork to make the “crows feet” around the edges. After filling the pies and putting them in the oven, she would take a break. She would sit in the dinning room “with a cool drink” and it was my turn on the kitchen counter.
Grandma always had a little dough left over and it was mine to make into any shape I wanted. It was always funnyu looking, but you try to make animals out of raw dough! Then, it would go in a little pan by itself next to the pie. I’d eat my little creation with butter when it was done.
Same thing with cake batter, I got a little left over batter to bake and frost myself.
Thanksgiving Day meant getting up at 4am. Grandma got up to start cooking. I was there to “keep her company” until I was needed for the oyster dressing. She would take a loaf of bread, lay the slices out on a cookie sheet and stick it in the oven to toast them all at once.
After the toasting was done, we formed a mini assembly line. I would slather hot toast with butter and toss it in the mixing bowl. While my grandmother would squeeze the oysters to make sure there were no shells. Occasionally, I would swipe a piece of toast for my own purposes–and she would give me a side-eye. Then we would have oyster fritters for breakfast.
We were sitting down to dinner by two. The rule is you eat dinner at your own place first, before you go house hopping. You never know what disaster happened in another person’s kitchen.
Full of food, we would usually meet the rest of the family at Yoli and Melvin’s house. They had a bar and an advanced stereo system–it played records, cassettes and 8 tracks–in the basement. My grandmother and her sisters held court. Between dances and “a little taste” of the punch I was not allowed to drink, they caught up with family gossip and re-told family stories.
There was no big, Hollywood-like production where the entire family sits down at once. If you wanted something to eat, you got it and came back to the party. No talk about pilgrims or Native Americans. No everybody say what you are thankful for. No “family secret” drama where someone’s night ends in tears. No men gathered around a tv screen while the women run the kitchen. No mapping out strategies for black Friday sales.
Everyone was together. Everyone was happy.
This is what I think about 6am on Thanksgiving morning when I stare down a not-quite-completely-thawed turkey.