My second favorite Thanksgiving was when I was a junior in high school. It began when my sister Jo and I were doing our homework after dinner a week before Thanksgiving. Our mom was sighing loudly in the kitchen about how she wasn’t ready for the upcoming holiday meal and how she was tired and was not looking forward to getting out, doing the shopping and putting it all together. Almost at the same moment my sister Jo and I spoke up and said “We’ll do it.”
Surprised, my mother turned, gave us a grateful but almost pitying look that said we were misguided to think we had any idea of how to put together a holiday meal for a family of nine plus guests. “Thank you, but no.” she said. “It’s a sweet thought but you two couldn't handle it. It’s too much.” Jo and I looked at each and frowned wondering what in the world our mother was talking about. “It’s my own fault,” she sighed, “I never taught you how to pull together something like this.”
“Oh Mom, pul-leeze” I said, a little insulted,(I think Jo rolled her eyes) “We know how to stuff a turkey. We’ve been in the kitchen with you every Thanksgiving for our whole lives. How could we not?”
My mother gave us her signature “Oh Really” look, sat down at the table where we were doing our home work and proceeded to quiz us on the finer points of putting together a turkey dinner. We were ready for her. It was a matter of honor now. We got a piece of paper and wrote out the menu, the shopping list and the order in which each aspect of the dinner was prepared. We proudly answered every one of her questions and enjoyed immensely the change of her expression from dubiousness to incredulous.
“You really do know.” She said slowly.
It was our turn to give her the almost pitying look and sigh. “Yes Mom, we really do know. So can we do it?”
She hesitated. “Let me talk to your father first.”
We finished our homework as she went into the family room to have a hushed conversation with our dad. Later I wondered if Mom was trying to get Dad to give her a good reason to say no. About fifteen minutes later she came back in and said tentatively, “Are you sure you can do it? Are you sure you want to?” We nodded yes and she said, “ Well, your father said if I was sure you could it would be ok with him.” Needless to say, we were tickled to death that we were going to get to show off what we could do.
Long story short, early Saturday morning we got the keys to the car and the grocery money from our dad and took off to buy the preparations for the feast. I know it was all our Mom could do to not go with us and she was waiting impatiently for us when we got back 90 minutes later. She carefully inspected what we bought including the 20 lb butterball turkey and reluctantly gave us the go ahead to move to the next stage. Part over me still thinks Mom might have been thinking better of letting go of the reigns of one of our signature holiday celebrations. Too bad. That year, Jo and I were definitely in charge.
Over the weekend and those Monday and Tuesday nights we chopped and diced onions, celery for the stuffing, along with walnuts and apples for the Waldorf salad. We baked cornbread for the stuffing, peeled potatoes, made a cake and a couple of pies and if I remember correctly, Jello fruit salad for dessert. We prepared the turkey, stuffed it and about 1:30 in the morning shoved it in the oven to roast slowly (in the traditional brown paper bag, mind you) over night. It was just like she did it. We were confident in our preparations which of course we should have been. We did everything exactly the way we has witnessed our Mom do it over the years. I still wonder why she was so surprised that we had picked up so much from helping her out in the kitchen. After all, it was exactly how she learned to cook from her mom.
Everything turned out great and we were very proud of the compliments we received all around, Jo and I for the meal and my mom for having trained her daughters well in the homemaking arts. I’m not sure how much rest she actually got because she hovered over us the whole time but it was worth it. We were proud to be able to give our mom a true day off. The only thing Mom had to do with the cooking was make the gravy. (The process of making gravy and I are not friends to this day.) To this day it is my second favorite Thanksgiving memory. I’ll tell you about my best Thanksgiving Day ever next Thursday.