The Traditional Thanksgiving

From my childhood

Terry L. Cooper

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I grew up a lot like the Waltons. Tradition, tradition, tradition. The women did all of the work, the older kids too. The menfolk sat around and spun tall tails of deer they caught, and fish that got away. The kitchen was always hot and bustling. Women cooked and baked at home and then went to my maternal grandmother’s house where they collectively cooked and baked some more.

Turkey, stuffing (not dressing), baked corn, greens, homemade mac and cheese, cranberry sauce, candied yams, mashed potatoes (real nothing from a box), gravy, Waldorf salad, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, and a table full of desserts.

The guys would always sit down to eat first. If there was space in a different room there would be the inevitable kiddie table. Otherwise, they ate second. Then we ladies ate last. The whole time we’re still waiting on tables, refilling bowls, refilling ice tea glasses or coffee cups.

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After we ate in the third shift it was time to do it all over again. Let’s not forget that there was no infinite stash of plates and flatware. So someone had to steadily be doing the dishes as people rotated through. Once we ate and had a minute to catch our breath, it was time to set up for dessert. Layout all of the cakes and pies, more plates, more flatware, more cups, saucers, and glasses. More, and more, and more, and more. It was literally an all-day affair. Except for us women. Then it was more like a 2 1/2 day affair. Not including making the various shopping lists of who was bringing what and when.

The shifts began again — the men, the kids, the women. In between rounds, the men would light up pipes or cigars. The women would snag a piece of this or a bite of that and pop it into her mouth. Eating on the run I believe is what this is referred to.

Thank God we only had to do this once a year. Well, twice, no maybe sometimes three times if Christmas and Easter got thrown in there and someone had the bright idea of making a to-do for each of them. Then there were the other eating affairs that took as much time, energy, effort, and planning, even though on a…

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