Little Annies Thanksgivings

Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn

Also available in print, at Amazon UK and Smashwords, and for SonyReader, Kobo, Diesel, ibookstore and NOOK!

I would be lying if I said that Thanksgiving was my favorite time of year – Christmas is, but Thanksgiving runs a very close second.  Perhaps, one of the reasons is that for me it marks the beginning of the holiday season, and who doesn’t love a beginning?

When I was a small child, growing up in the duplex we called The Double, we always drove to my maternal grandmother’s house to celebrate this holiday, and I never heard any complaining.  Usually, we left when my father returned from work, by which time my younger sisters and I had been bathed, fed and put into our pajamas.

As soon as Dad arrived, he would begin packing the car.  Once started on our four hour trek, my sisters would fall asleep under quilts on the back seat, but not me.  These were the old days, back before time and seatbelts, and I was allowed to stand behind my father, watching the car’s headlights reveal a frost-covered landscape over his shoulder as we traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to Crawfordsville, Indiana.

It was a badge of honor for me to remain awake until we got there, because I knew what certainly lay ahead.  How excited I was as we traveled the quiet streets of my birth town, just minutes away from my grandmother’s!  Finally, we were there, and my father would steer our 1951 Pontiac sedan onto the Lot as we always called my grandmother’s well-kept lawn.

Still wrapped in their quilts, my sisters would be bundled off to bed as Grandma bustled around her small kitchen.  On the stove, a pot of her chili simmered.  Places had already been set at the round oak table, and one would be added for me.  My uncle, who was still in high school, would be sent onto the unheated, but enclosed back porch to rummage through the many baked goods that were stored there in the cold for at least one apple, one cherry, and one pumpkin pie, as well as a cake of some sort.  Saltines were placed on the table, and we were ready to eat.

Father, who had munched on a cold sandwich in the car as he drove, always blessed the food and then received the first bowl, into which he would crush a large handful of saltines since Grandma’s chili was more soup-like than most.  My bowl would be next, probably in hopes that once finished eating I would be ready for bed, but by now, I had gotten my second wind.

Besides, I knew full well that there would be gossip afloat.  If I ate my chili slowly and stretched out my piece of pumpkin pie quietly, there was no telling what I might learn.  I am often asked where the characters for my books come from.  Can you guess?

Finally, someone would notice that my eyes were beginning to droop, and I would be hustled off to bed in the front bedroom that had once been the living room of the historic home.  Since the only heat in the house emanated from a grate in the next room and thick velvet curtains pulled across a wooden rod separated the two rooms, the front bedroom was rather chilly.  Layers of blankets kept us toasty, and I have never slept as well as I slept in that room.

Despite my having been awake half the night, I would arise from my bed quite early for there was plenty of activity going on in the house.  Even on this food preparation filled day, breakfast was bacon, eggs and toast, often followed by a sliver of pie, except for my uncle who was known to occasionally break his fast with a piece of apple pie he had placed in a bowl before pouring the cream rich milk of those days over it.

In an effort to keep us girls out of the way, my father would take us on a walk after breakfast, always herding us the few blocks to his alma mater, Wabash College, where we would visit with the college librarians my father had assisted while earning his B.S. degree.  These maiden ladies were always pleased to see us, allowing us to use their date stamps and play with their typewriters.  Is it any wonder that Sister #2 [Size Matters] became a librarian?

Our walk behind us, we were allowed to run free on the Lot if it was warm enough, or we could color on one of the many tablets Grandma kept in the lower drawer of her secretary desk.  I always preferred, though, to remain in the kitchen, not being an idiot.  This room was full of women working flat out to make sure that every plate on the three large tables around which we would eat Thanksgiving dinner could be piled high with traditional foods.

My grandmother was in command of this enterprise, but any of these women could have served a meal for fifty in her spare time.  Born and bred of pioneer stock (my grandmother’s family had helped settle what is now Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park), all of them had lived through World War I, the Depression, and World War II.  To have called them strong would’ve been one of The World’s Greatest Understatements.  They had worked hard, lived hard, and made hard decisions, having witnessed birth, death, and everything in between.  They had raised families, buried multiple husbands, acted as midwife to their communities and attained management positions in area factories – almost unheard of in the early ’50s.  On this day, though, they were completely immersed in more “normal” female roles of the period – cooking and cleaning.

My great-grandmother, who had been left legally blind by a childhood illness and still raised a family cooking on a wood stove, manned the Hoosier Kitchen, where she rolled out one perfect batch of homemade noodles after another.  My mother and several great-aunts, all tiny women who always fascinated me because their over-sized bosoms seemed to enter a room first, were in charge of vegetables, salads and stewed fruits, while my grandmother stood guard over the pressure cooker.

I have never been in a space so filled with aromas – turkey, pot roast, ham all three meats intermingled in the air around me.  Two kinds of stuffing were in evidence – one with and one without oysters.  Each woman had arrived laden with freshly prepared food items from her own domicile.

Homemade cranberry sauce and applesauce (made from the apples grown in the orchard at the back of my grandmother’s property) were already waiting on the back porch, along with two open ironing boards and several chairs that were stacked with pies and cake safes too numerous to count.  It was nothing for us to have apple, cherry, plum, pumpkin, coconut, sugar cream, chocolate, lemon, and butterscotch pie, all available in sufficient quantity to satisfy everyone.  What we would have done without that cold enclosed porch I don’t know, because my Grandmother’s tiny freezer only held two ice cube trays and a half gallon of ice cream!

Dinner was always served as soon after noon as it was ready.  Grace was said, and then the meal was served buffet style from the kitchen, except for bowls of vegetables and fruit salads and sauces that were placed along the tables.  The men, of course, were always served first.  Then we children had our plates filled, and finally the women, who were probably exhausted, were allowed serve themselves.

Dinner was never a quiet affair in this house, and conversation flowed freely.  Competitions often arose as to who had eaten the most turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or noodles.  Then, of course, there were the pie eating contests, and God help the man who forget himself and commented that another woman’s congealed salad was better than the one his wife had brought.

After dinner, the men lolled around in the living room as the younger children were left in the front bedroom to nap.  The women, of course, divided or put away any leftovers and cleaned all the pots, pans, dishes, and utensils by hand, scalding them with boiling hot water on the drainboard by the sink.  I was just old enough to be allowed the privilege of drying, which meant that Mother spent much of her time warning me to watch out as the dishes were scalded.  Believe me, those plates and utensils were hot!

Amazingly, after everyone but our own family unit had left, we were still ready for supper, which not surprisingly was comprised solely of leftovers.  Oh, what wonderful repasts those were!

All of those amazing women are now gone, but reminders of them still surround me.  My grandmother’s oak pedestal table now lives in my dining room, and my uncle just gifted me my great-grandmother’s chiming mantel clock and a great-aunt’s rose-colored marble-topped table.  As much as I treasure these pieces, though, I would give all of them back to have just one more Thanksgiving like those of my past!

May you and your family enjoy the best Thanksgiving ever!

Annie Acorn

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