At first it was a joke that my father and us kids would lug a huge turkey home from the grocery store to bake for the special day. "What did you do?", Mother would say, "find the biggest turkey in Meridian!?" We'd all laugh as she'd try to lift the huge bird, fussing because more stuffing would be needed for it's size. Tradition begins. Every year from then on we'd go from store to store to find the biggest turkey out there. If memory serves me right, the largest one we ever found was close to forty pounds.
Mother soon learned to make doubled amounts of cornbread and bread for an extra- large amount of stuffing. I should explain, the cornmeal was to make cornbread for the 'Southern stuffing' at one end of the turkey, and the bread was for 'Yankee stuffing' which was stuffed at the other end. The breaking up and seasoning of the breads was done the day before Thanksgiving because Mother's plan was always to get the turkey in the oven before bedtime. Being it was so large,
she allowed it to cook all night getting up each hour to baste the bird and make sure it was 'just so'. There isn't a time I smell a turkey baking that I don't reminisce over that wonderful aroma which permeated the entire house as we awoke on Thanksgiving morn.
After breakfast we'd start chopping, slicing, dicing, and getting things going for the noon feast. All the while my father would be glued to the TV in the next room telling us to come quickly so as not to miss a most glorious float in one of many Thanksgiving Day parades. Mother would fuss while we'd all run to see it, after awhile realizing just how long we were away from our cooking. Those parades were as much a part of our Thanksgiving day as that giant bird gracing our table.
Being my father was a Yankee, and my mother a Southern Belle, our household usually consisted of both cultures. As ingrained as some of the Yankee culture was to us kids, the ol' Southern charm won out when it came to that cornbread stuffing w/ freshly made cranberry sauce. I remember the sound of those cranberries popping, announcing the sauce was ready to chill alongside those wonderful pickled peaches and midget sweet pickles.
Then there was the Ambrosia. And I don't mean Ambrosia purchased from the deli as in nowadays. Mother made sure to get the freshest of oranges to peel and chop along with coconuts to 'smash', separate, and grate. No need for sugar. It was sweet enough on it's own. Once prepared, the Ambrosia was chilled and placed in our special but mismatched crystal cups our Nana sent us from New York. Added to the traditional menu was the wonderful Fruit Salad which had oranges, apples, bananas, maraschino cherries, and marshmallows we cut up w/scissors before the minis were around. All that mixed w/chopped
pecans from our own backyard. A touch of mayonnaise tinted with the cherry juice gave it a delightful pink color. This fruited dish truly was "nectar for the gods".
The rest of the meal consisted of fresh mashed potatoes thick with butter and gravy poured over, baked Butternut Squash sweet with brown sugar, and a steaming big bowl of broccoli on the side. Finally, the dessert of either a slice of four layer coconut cake mounded high with sweet meringue, hot pumpkin pie topped with ice cream or a small piece of mincemeat pie.
My father always said the mincemeat was way too rich to have a bigger piece for us kids, but I suspect that was because he wanted to make certain there was enough for him to come back and get more later.
After we had stuffed ourselves silly, we headed to Highland Park with paper grocery bags and my father's famous wooden plank with the rope attached. Back then, the park was loaded with pecan trees and the pecans would fall like rain on a windy day. Daddy would tell us all to "back up!" as he'd swing that plank toward heaven. It would attach itself to the limbs he aimed for and the annual shaking of the branches would begin.
All of the pecans that were barely hanging on would fall and we'd squeal with laughter to get out of their way. Then, we'd run back in to collect all those plump nuts ready to crack while Daddy tried to figure out how to maneuver the plank out of the limbs. Tree after tree would be shaken until Mother would finally say, "Enough!". After all, she would be the self-delegated one to crack all those pecans and pick the meat out. Even though we'd want to help, she'd feel like our impatience would miss the best parts. I so love thinking about those days that we'd stay in the park all afternoon without thought of going home.
By the time we did get home, we were hungry again and ready for more feasting. I'm not sure what's better, the Thanksgiving meal first presented or tearing into those wonderful leftovers. Afterwards, the cold would be setting in for the November evening and we'd start winding down from a very busy and full day. Thanksgiving was a wonderful time of togetherness we as children will always remember, and hopefully pass on to our own families. I hope you too have memories close to those
I've shared with you. If not, perhaps it's time to start your own so that one day, your children can reminisce of how a family tradition was begun and enjoyed by all.
Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.