Hanging up a woman’s fur coat and a man’s overcoat were familiar rites of passage on Thanksgiving. When Joanna’s grandparents arrived, the day’s festivities got into full swing.
There is a front hall in the 1820’s New England farmhouse where she grew up. A long, yellow, stenciled bench there held hats and gloves. Above it, a rack held the coats. It was a short walk to the front hall, yet the coats were heavy for a young girl of ten or so.
At the table, the grandparents sat across from Joanna. Grandma wore a green print dress with a gold circled, pearl accented broche. Grandpa wore a double-breasted, blue pin-striped suit with a cranberry colored tie. The details of what her siblings wore don’t come to mind. There was a cranberry hounds-tooth skirt that may have fit the bill for Joanna. Her dad always wore a cranberry pullover sweater with buttons and a collar. There appears to be a clear color theme with at least three people!
Three small ornaments came out for Thanksgiving dinner. The first was something made in school in the form of a turkey of pine cone and pipe cleaners. The other two were wax figurines of a pilgrim man and woman. They sat on the windowsills in the dining room.
As Joanna wandered into the kitchen, her dad would be making cut celery with cream cheese and a sprinkling of paprika. It was the traditional holiday appetizer that they gathered in the kitchen to munch on while taking in the wonderful smells of the turkey cooking.
The pantry held the two traditional pies that would be eaten later. The first was a pumpkin pie, and the second was a mincemeat pie. They would be served with a hunk of white cheddar cheese.
At the table, the family sat down and began serving the food family style. Most tried to put a reasonable amount on their plates and knew they could go back for seconds. Not so with grandma and grandpa. They filled their plates mounded to about four inches high.
Grandpa, in his 80s, was showing serious side effects of his pernicious anemia with shaking hands. Still, each bite slowly made it into his mouth and they both cleared those dishes with no trouble whatsoever. Joanna’s mom explained that her parents had lived through the great depression and it had changed them.
Talk at the table began with family topics of what aunts, uncles and cousins were up to. Sometimes there would be stories of whose cars drove by her grandparents’ house that week. Other times grandma’s prized roses or lush blueberries were the topic.
“Old Mrs. Henkins was quite talkative on the phone this week. Every time I tried to make a call, she was talking to someone,” grandma said. Party lines on phones were, surprisingly, alive and well in some rural holdings.
“You talk plenty yourself on the phone, Helen,” grandfather would say. While a man of very few words, he reminded my grandmother of her talkative nature. The joke was that grandpa had selective hearing. He rarely even appeared to notice her talking unless there was a topic he felt obliged to join.
Sometimes there would be a sequel to the story of a broken fence and the neighbors’ cows coming into their property. Grandma was quick on her feet to run out banging kitchen pans to chase them back to their property. Next, the conversation would go to new recipes or television shows that the family was enjoying. Common, universal topics were discussed that didn’t anger or alienate anyone.
“Fred,” grandmother would say to her husband. “Isn’t this delicious? I don’t think I’ll be hungry later.”