WOSTER: Our Thanksgiving not exactly worthy of Rockwell's talent
I've never done Norman Rockwell style Thanksgivings, but in my defense, I grew up in a family that didn't do Thanksgiving well at all.
I'm not proud of that. It's just how it was. We learn what we observe, right? And I learned from people who struggled to have the traditional Thanksgiving of crisp white linens and sparkling crystal and good China set on a table heavily laden with turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and marshmallowed yams that nobody in our family would eat, or even taste.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, though it often seems these days that it's a mild inconvenience between Halloween and Christmas. Halloween is about getting. Christmas is about giving and getting. Thanksgiving, stuck in the middle, is about being grateful for what we've already been given.
I grew up in a family thankful for our many gifts and blessings. Gosh, my mom and dad showed every single day that they were thankful for living on a small piece of decent land, having five generally healthy kids and lacking so little that it was hardly worth thinking about. I'm pretty sure they were thankful that we could put food on the table three times a day, even four or five times when the harvest season was in full swing.
So, thankfulness abounded each day. We just weren't good at making it something special on one particular Thursday late each November.
On the farm we had a huge kitchen with a fine gas stove, a south window over the sink, a U-shaped island that wrapped around the cooking and dish-washing area and plenty of room over toward the east side of the room for a table big enough for seven people and mounds of food. We moved to town for school years when I started third grade, and I recall only one Thanksgiving meal at the table in the kitchen on the farm. The turkey was as dry as the north pasture after a three-year drought.
My mom knew it. She was her own harshest critic when it came to cooking. She was pretty quiet through the meal that year. My dad, bless his soul, acted as if it were the juiciest specimen of fowl he'd ever tasted. Me, I'd taken a slice of turkey breast the consistency of road tar. Throughout the meal I kept asking, please, for the gravy, even though I'd long finished my helping of mashed potatoes. Norman Rockwell never put that image on canvas.
Once we moved to town, we usually had Thanksgiving dinner in the big room off the kitchen. The TV was over in the corner, but we pushed it out of the way (we even turned it off, in spite of the fact that the Lions were in the process of beating up on the Packers as they usually did on Thanksgiving Day in the 1950s) so we could put some leaves in the table and find a mess of chairs, not all matched. It was cramped, with little room for swinging elbows, and when one of us sawed away at a piece of turkey, another of us took more bruises than a guy guarding Bill Laimbeer when he played for Detroit's Bad Boys in the NBA.
Of course we had a bowl of marshmallowed yams. My dad claimed to love the dish, so my mom kept serving it. But I swear, the level of food in that bowl never dropped a fraction of an inch.
One year when we had a couple of visiting relatives at the table, my mom was more flustered than usual. She had spread a lovely white tablecloth, and for a moment as we gathered, we just might have resembled a painting. Then my dad sliced into the turkey and the tablecloth turned red. The bird was maybe an hour short of done.
My mom was mortified. My dad, bless his soul, was ready to go ahead and eat, but his spouse insisted on cooking the turkey a while longer. We ate olives and potatoes and gravy and rolls and cranberry sauce as we waited. Nobody passed the yams.
It wasn't a Rockwell Thanksgiving, but it sure was memorable.