“Every leaf on that table was used,” Shorehaven Tower residents reminisced about previous Thanksgivings, where an adult always had to sit at the “kids’ table,” another pulled up a cracked wooden chair, and others had to stand, “Because it didn’t matter. We were all together.” The group shared the “guts” of the Thanksgiving holidays, when kids mushed their turkey, hid the vegetables, sipped on kiddy cocktails, sampled suet pudding, challenged cousins to Checkers or Hearts, and sliced up Martha Washington mincemeat pies.
Spices like cinnamon, hickory and citron were introduced to raisins and dates, oranges and chopped apples to cranberry sauce. Leslie B. said that her then-fiance, Art, won the favor of the entire family by carving the turkey. “None of the other men would touch it. They all hid in the living room.”
“I never did learn to carve a turkey,” said Carolyn N. “I overcooked it so the big ol’ turkey just fell apart.” Some newlyweds hosted in-laws in tiny apartments, others tried their first stuffing experiment. “I accidentally put in three pounds of butter,” said Ruth A. “It became mostly toast.”
Carolyn N. admitted she was “shaking when my husband’s family came.” “I had no experience whatsoever in the kitchen.” “How I had the nerve to invite my own parents I’ll never know,” laughed Rose G. “I didn’t even know how to cook.” Later that morning, something smelled scorched in the roasting oven. “Thank Heavens it wasn’t the turkey,” said Rose. “Just a hot pad was burning in there.”
At most locations, the good silverware and China were dusted off, and cloth napkins, candles, and tablecloths brought out. Some recalled making meals before appliances. “What refrigerator?” laughed Ruth. “Our refrigerator was down the cistern. We’d lower a bucket down the well for chilling. And butter was cooled on 50 lb. ice chunks.”
“Oh everyone was around when I was cooking, with their fingers in everything, but I couldn’t find a soul when it came to cleaning up,” said Pat D. At Ruth’s house, the rules were in place when you walked through the door. Family drew numbers with assigned tasks, from setting the table, to saying the prayer, stacking tables and chairs, and washing dishes. “Even the three and four-year-olds could throw the napkins in the washing machine.”
They also remember the embarrassing instances, when the kitchen sink clogged when “the aunts” first arrived, the stool upstairs “overflowing and coming through the ceiling,” and leftover turkey accidentally left on the heated stairway to the attic. “We always had a cold stairwell, and didn’t think anything about it,” laughed Carolyn. “After a few hours, those leftovers were done.”
There were tales of botched corn pudding, “It doesn’t always gel,” lumpy gravy, scalloped oysters and oyster dressing, homemade beet and dandelion wine and hot mulled cider. Al C. recalled “Get out of my way” green bean casserole that wife Suzy threatened him with. “You stay out of my green beans!” she’d shout. Al was only allowed in the kitchen when it was time to do dishes.
But amidst the laughter, they remembered mostly being together for the holidays. Turkeys were butchered, plucked and now roasting, cranberries were soaking, potatoes were peeled, apple, mincemeat, and pumpkin pies laid out for the slicing. “We all looked at each other around the table and smiled, and then prayed,” Pat remembered.