Jottings: Ninety Thanksgivings
My mother and I spent our first Thanksgiving together in the hospital. I was two days old, she was 36, and it was 1930 — back in the day when mothers and babies stayed at the hospital for two weeks after birth. Maybe this time together provided the bonding and closeness we enjoyed for the rest of her 88 years. I was her first and only child, and claimed as a major reason for giving thanks that year. Possibly another reason was her not having to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
My parents' families celebrated all birthdays; and since mine became synonymous with Thanksgiving, she served the traditional meal for the next 20 years. I have early memories of large gatherings of 30 or more relatives converging at our Iowa farm home laden with side dishes and desserts to add to the turkey and all its trimmings ... plus gifts for the "birthday girl."
After feasting came the partying and entertainment. Men took over a room for card playing, smoking and beer drinking; women helped my mother with kitchen cleanup; and I reluctantly shared my upstairs playroom with cousins (as per instructions) hoping nothing would get broken and knowing that all dolls would have to be redressed and the entire room put back into its rightful order the next day. Then I'd be called to put on my tap shoes, a corner of the living room carpet was rolled back, and with my mother at the piano, I performed the latest Shirley Temple songs and tap-danced.
Aunt Nora would play her signature piano rendition of "Doodly-Doo" which prompted singing and others taking turns at the piano. These noisy and happy affairs gradually diminished in size as families grew and started their own Thanksgiving traditions, and older members passed on.
When husband, Harold, and I married in 1950, the Thanksgiving/Birthday Torch was passed to us and I realized I should have been more proactive in learning how to prepare and serve what I consider the most challenging meal of the year. A first experience with a turkey ... a frozen one, went well until Harold started carving and we discovered the giblets were still wrapped and in the breast cavity. We were by ourselves in the kitchen so quickly discarded them. I recall my father commenting on not seeing his favorite piece, the gizzard, and my telling him it didn't come with one.
As the years progressed, I put in my tenure of turkey roasting, trying all the latest methods and eventually becoming a pro at the foil-wrapped bird. Every couple years I took a sabbatical from wrestling with a turkey to spend Thanksgiving with Harold's family. This was a 400-mile trek from Waterloo, Iowa to Grand Island, Nebraska and weather conditions often made for hazardous travel. But these raucous and fun weekends with his four siblings and families were worth the trip.
Happily, I was given a reprieve from turkey-roasting when moving to Oregon in 1992 as daughter Betsy and son-in-law Mike took over the task, with occasional deviations. In 1999, a year after Harold's death, too much sadness prevailed for our traditional Thanksgiving so we did a river cruise and dinner on the Portland Spirit. There have also been celebrations at the coast with Mike's family.
After Dick and I married, his daughter Karen hosted our families a couple of years, and in 2006 we invited both families to feast in our new home. With the turkey needing another hour in the oven, there was a prolonged power outage in our area. I bundled the roaster with bird into my Jetta VW and drove it across town to Betsy's pre-heated oven. Hours later when we all assembled at the candlelit table, the lights came on and everyone, in high spirits and enjoying the ambiance, said: "turn them off."
90 years of Thanksgivings ... and birthdays ... add up to many stories. In this year of 2020, with the nation still in the grips of COVID, another unforgettable memory awaits — not only for me but for all of America. Happy Thanksgiving!
Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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