How lucky am I to have my blog appear on Thanksgiving Day! This year. In the middle of a pandemic. When no one can travel or sit at a table with all those they love. Okay, it’s been on my mind.
Thanksgiving has always been my holiday. Back in the days when we had nuclear families, as in grandparents living with us or nearby, aunts and uncles and cousins just up the road, Thanksgiving was it! Just a great big, whack-a-doodle party from beginning to end. Especially since as kids our entire responsibility was to stay out of the way while the feast was prepared. My older sister and I and an aunt and uncle our ages made Christmas chains out of all the left-over aluminum foil at a big old card table in the front parlor. If we were really good, we got to pour water into the water glasses and set up the kids’ tables. Remember those?
The entire family, including great aunts and uncles from Chicago, all converged on the family farm, a Century farm in northwestern Illinois with a big old Victorian farmhouse. The local aunts, uncles, and cousins arrived by late morning. But, since we lived only twenty minutes away, we strolled in for breakfast, which always included Grandma Mid’s thumbprint cakes. These things were to die for, and you might actually die from them. They involved large dollops of heavy cream hand-churned from milk from our cows by a second cousin a few miles away. OMG!
Cooking for the big day, started the previous weekend with pies. Grandma Mid and her daughters were glorious pie makers. The inscription on one aunt’s tombstone ends with: And the best damn pie maker. No kidding. For reference, imagine one of those ads you used to see with a huge family around an enormous table covered in food and double it. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting gone wild.
As soon as we were released from our eating obligations, we kids would roar out into the farmyard or across the lane to the timber and romp and stomp. Back then, there were only six grandkids and our youngest aunt and uncle, but the eight of us could make a world out of the woodland, the ditch, and the farmyard. Sooner or later, a ball game would erupt on the front lawn with the walnut trees standing in for bases. When darkness descended, the Hearts game started. My uncles played hardcore unforgiving Hearts with raised voices, accusations of cheating, and peals of laughter.
I once drew a picture for my second grade class of Thanksgiving at our farm. I was meticulous about it, putting every single one of the thirty-one participants in the picture. The assignment had been to draw a true picture of the holiday, suspicious my teacher questioned my accuracy. She even showed it to my mother, who forever gained my adoration by systematically naming all thirty-one persons in the picture. Though I think she fudged on more than a few.
Is it any wonder that this farmhouse stood in for the one in my Cooper Vietnam Era Quartet? Becoming a character in the newest and third book, Pay Back.
Redolent with years of yeasty bread and the gossip of farm families, the farmhouse kitchen took up a full quarter of the ground floor and was the aorta of the home. Everything and everyone flowed through it whether to climb the stairs, enter the front parlors, or go to the bathroom. An oak table, ten feet long without leaves, surrounded by ladder-backed oak chairs with a captain’s chair at each end, took a full third of the room. A built-in corner hutch gleamed with a new multi-paned glass door.
Ash planking adorned the restored floor. The cabinets were white, the countertop butcher block, and the appliances stainless steel and time-tested. Rag rugs made by the Plainwell Woman’s Club from strips of used clothing were sprinkled around the room, one in front of the six-burner gas stove, one in front of the sink, and one under the oak table.
That kitchen stove had a bun warmer to one side. Every now and then, I would have the joy of tumbling downstairs for breakfast to tiny cheeps emanating from behind the warmer door. I remember Grandmother frying eggs at the stove, then casually leaning over to open the bun warmer as the cheeps crescendoed. Tiny little yellow chicks bobbled out on to the floor, trying their untried wings, and wobbling along. Grandma’s calico cat, the only working cat allowed in the kitchen, rested her paws on the edge of her water dish. She watched them take their first drink, her little cat lips pursed.
We may not have this Thanksgiving with family, but we have all that came before and all those to come. So, get out the albums, cook up your turkey, and snuggle in front of a fire (be it on Netflix, electric, gas, or wood), and spend time with your family on Zoom, Hangouts, or a video conference of choice. And enjoy!
Three books of the Cooper Era Vietnam Quartet: Dead Legend, Head First, and Pay Back are available on Amazon in paperback and ebook. Pay Back at https://www.amazon.com/Pay-Back-Cooper-Vietnam-Quartet-ebook/dp/B08CJDHP92