For the Record: Memories pile up faster than you can say ‘pass the potatoes’
In a few days, I will be traveling to Ohio for what can only be described as a “middle-aged siblings” Thanksgiving reunion, not much material there for a holiday television special, but important to us nonetheless.
My younger brother John, my oldest sister Charlotte and I are spending Thanksgiving together at the house where we grew up. It’s been a long time since I was back home, especially for a holiday. There will be no parents to referee and no little children to distract us. It’s just the three of us and my 28-year-old niece.
As I contemplate this visit, memories surface of other holidays at home. We’ve never been your typical nuclear family, but that doesn’t mean we lacked tradition. Most of them were instituted by my mother, who fancied herself more Martha Raye than Martha Stewart.
Mom made the world’s best stuffing (and the world’s worst spaghetti). Early the day before Thanksgiving, she would peel off slice after identical slice of Wonder bread and cover every inch of available counter space so the bread could dry out. At exactly 6 p.m., it was my job to turn all the slices so the other side could dry. Then, wielding serrated knives, we kids cut the bread into perfect cubes for her celery dressing.
It’s because of my mother that I am dragging boxes of Christmas cards across the United States to address them over my 10-day holiday. My mother had a rigorous system for holiday correspondence. She kept a Christmas card list, color-coded and filled with names and addresses. The Christmas card book had little boxes for “sent” and “received” and she scrupulously kept score every year. If two or three years went by and the “sents” and “receiveds” didn’t add up, you were off the list. It took two years of consecutive cards from the offenders to her to get back on the list.
She probably sent out more than 100 cards a year, all handwritten. In her mind, printed cards were tacky. Night after night, when she came home from work, she would sit at the kitchen table for hours writing personal greetings and addressing cards. She always sent religious cards and bought them for half price the day after Christmas for the following holidays. The more gold foil on the card and envelope, the better.
When my daughter and I were first on our own, we looked forward to celebrating Thanksgiving and creating a few traditions of our own. Early on, we perfected the “soft side dish” Thanksgiving dinner. When you think about it, the only item that requires a knife is the turkey, so, we liberated the bird and dined on mashed potatoes, dressing, canned gravy, cranberry sauce and pie.
That also was the year we settled down in sweat pants and argued over whether to watch the “X-Files”or “Party of Five” marathons. It was the first of what turned out to be relaxing, no-pressure holidays. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but fine with us.
On Nov. 23, my sister, brother and I will gather for one more holiday at 1637 Berkshire Road. We’ll have perfectly cubed dressing, use the good dishes and silver and talk about my sister Ellen who won’t be there to defend herself.
We will toast my mother, and the other people we love who are not at our table, thankful for each and every one. And if you get a Christmas card from me, don’t be surprised if it has an Ohio postmark.
n Sheila Gardner is editor of The Record-Courier.