‘I Became a Thanksgiving Orphan’

I have never prepared a Thanksgiving dinner, never roasted a turkey, never worried about getting the skin crisp, the breast moist and the giblet dressing just right. It’s not that I’m lazy or unable to assemble enough family and friends around a table to convene a holiday meal. Rather, I realized that my youthful Thanksgivings past were perfection, and I should not attempt to duplicate them.

Indeed, whenever I’m asked what I would like to have as my last meal, I’m wont to reply: my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner. The holiday is one of my favorites, as it signals the beginning of the winter season, which offers all of the at-home entertaining with conviviality and cooking that I adore.

My family was an oh-so-nuclear family of mommy, daddy and baby, but from my midteens, after the death of my maternal grandmother, the family matriarch, until I was well into my 30s, my house was holiday central. Preparations began weeks ahead as my mother ordered a freshly killed turkey from the neighborhood butcher. (No frozen Butterball for her, even back in the 1970s.)

The days leading up to the holiday were a time for preparation, especially baking, and the kitchen would be enveloped in the cinnamon-and-nutmeg aroma of sweet potato pie and the dense potpourri of the old-fashioned mincemeat one that I looked forward to each year.

Thanksgiving Day was always an up-at-dawn deal. First, there was the stuffing to be made: a celery- and onion-dotted stale-bread dressing into which cornmeal was added. It was stuffed into the bird’s back and neck cavities, and cooked in the bird. There was none of this Pyrex-dish-to-avoid-cross-contamination nonsense. Mom knew how to cook, was a trained dietitian and knew about appropriate temperatures; no one got sick!

My Thanksgiving

Nine accomplished writers share their stories of the holiday.

It was my job to set the table. The banquet cloth of embroidered linen went down, and the Sunday-best china came out of the breakfront, as did the real sterling and the crystal wine goblets; after I attained drinking age, I delighted in assembling an array of them. There were the relish dishes to compose of hearts of celery and carrot sticks and supercolossal olives, both black and pimento-stuffed. The cranberry sauce was wriggled out of the can into one of my grandmother’s cut crystal bowls that was used only once a year, for this purpose.

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