Memories of Deceased Loved Ones on Thanksgiving
My brother Ralph’s oldest son remembers our Thanksgivings with the family as treasures and used the word “classic” to describe them. They were right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, to say the least.
First of all they were held in an ancient homestead built not by a Kelsey, but a Hurlbutt Gideon to be exact. His family grew rapidly after the four bedroom/three-quarter Georgian house was built so they had to add on more rooms almost immediately called “the back way.” The rooms were small but they came in handy for storage and at one time one of those upper rooms housed young chicks before we could get them into a coop.
But the Kelseys had built further down the hill, two house-lots away as we would say and so it was only natural that they should also acquire this farm too. So it was here in the large keeping room with the original open fireplace where our Thanksgiving dinners were held. We made use of many of the farm products that we raised the summer before such as the turkey, potatoes, onions, apples, green tomato mincemeat for the mince pie and pumpkins. I may have left some out, I’m not sure.
The principal baker and cook of this feast was Grandma Kelsey and I do believe she managed to keep up this tradition until she died in September 1972 just months away from being 92 years old. I remember she made the pies the day or evening before baking them at first in the black wood stove using our own fuel from the woodlot out West. Then she would get up way before dawn, making a fire in the stove and stuffing the turkey. One year it was decided to use the big old gobbler who terrorized anyone who came into the yard. Well, he was so large that he didn’t even fit in the oven! So he had to be cooked with the door slightly open and for a longer time. Our turkeys were the dark-colored kind, the ones that are shown most often although the white ones are most popular now. The various families brought contributions such as Aunt Helen made a wonderful Waldorf salad, complete with cut-up dates which were a special treat for me as we didn’t eat too many dates in those days — only in matrimonial bars.
Irene brought the turnips that were grown there on the farm. Cousin Louisa, who lived with Uncle and Aunt Grace in the Lower Place, as we always called it, brought her famous ginger cookies which she stamped out on a floured surface down there in her spacious kitchen also using a wood cooking stove. Judy and George brought the cider so we had lots of people and contributions. I usually got the job of making the gravy and became quite the gravy maker, a skill that I could always use. My sister Cally would, once in a while, make some kind of an original place card for us using her artistic skills.
So we would set up the kitchen table, making it as large as possible and then bring in the dining room table, a gateleg, so it could be made small enough to pass through the doorway. We didn’t have enough chairs for everyone so would use leaves from the dining room to place across the chairs for the children. We didn’t have them sit at small tables by themselves but they were a part of the family at the one big table. That really made an impression on me all those years.
Grandma would dish up several serving dishes of each food and place along the table, just like they did at Grange suppers, each with its own serving spoon so we didn’t have to have too many dishes going around. Uncle Don had performed his job in the pantry where there was a sideboard and he could easily carve the turkey. We were ready to eat!!! We all sat down and as long as Aunt Grace was alive, someone would say, “How about grace?” and Aunt Grace would pipe up in her squeaky little voice, “I’m here!” That was worth a lot more to me, frankly, than a formal grace. Something special to remember about Aunt Grace.
The conversation was light. Aunt Helen, now 95, a born humorist, always could see the funny side to things and there was a festive, happy atmosphere all during the meal. And, oh, it was so good. I remember thinking that I was a very lucky person to have been born into this family. I also remembered our Pilgrim ancestors too and one year when Martha was about 6 or 7 we were there and she insisted on wearing a gray cape to look like a Pilgrim. She still has a great interest in that heritage. Uncle Will and Louisa didn’t say too much during the meal but you could tell they were pleased to be there and we all exclaimed how good those cookies were so our dear cousin beamed with joy and she was way up in her eighties!
After dinner which was always served at 1 pm, the men usually went out in the woods to check the trap line. I went with them once or twice as I wanted to see it. There on a flat rock was another one held up with a small elongated stone and the bait was placed under the rock. They were hoping for something like a mink or such. When we got to the brook, one of most favorite aspects of the whole farm, Uncle Ed, Judy’s father, taught us how to get a drink of water if we were so inclined. He just lay down on the ground and drank from its clear, cold waters. I was amazed as even the many times I had walked there myself I had not thought to do this.
Meanwhile the women and I cleared the table. We used Grandma’s red dishes for the holidays and ONLY for special occasions. Can you imagine our quiet, shy Grandma using dishes with all those red flowers on them and red and gold borders? Usually, Irene hand-washed them in the lip sink while the tea kettle boiled on the stove. There was hot water but Grandma scalded them with the boiling water too. We each stood there with a towel to dry each dish and take them to the glassed-in cabinet in the dining room. There were lots of dishes but Grandma washed the pots and pans as she went along cooking. She was an amazing woman, doing all this during her eighties! We laughed and joked while we worked and had a good time.
Then when the men came back the table was cleared off and the men had a game of cards going as the kids watched or went into the Living Room to play a board game. In the early evening Grandma and Mom would put out what they called a “spread” and we would have a small supper. Then the very most favorite time of the day came for me. Aunt Helen would sit at the piano, Don would get out his guitar and we would have a song fest. (I am sitting here crying as I write this). I was amazed by the way Aunt Helen’s hands could fly on those keys and make those old songs come alive. It was even more meaningful at Christmas.
As I think over these old times, I am reminded of something that I just read a week or so ago about childhood memories. That we tend to remember all the good memories and thus have a very rosy hue on our pasts, thinking that nothing even comes close to this nowadays. I suppose I am one of these and I try to put a positive spin on our present experiences as these will be what our grandchildren remember in their older days!