The Spirit of Thanksgiving…

by Diana Mavetz Petrich

Waking up on Thanksgiving morning when I was a kid was the best. Our parents were up for hours before we were because we ate the banquet around the noon hour. Thanksgiving was one of the only days of the year we were allowed to sleep in.
The smell of the food being prepared was incredible. My parents always prepared a capon. I always assumed it was a young castrated turkey until I looked it up and found out a capon is a special type of chicken created to make the meat more tender and less gamey. It is a rooster that has been castrated before reaching sexual maturity, which improves the quality of the meat. It is fed a rich diet of milk or porridge. The lack of testosterone makes for a more tender, buttery and flavorful meat that is better than a regular chicken.
The capon was once considered a luxury, and during the early part of the twentieth century, the capon was the chosen bird for Christmas feasts, especially for the wealthy. Working-class families saw capon as a rare treat because it was quite expensive. These days it is rare to find capon chickens available.
The bird was always filled with the best homemade stuffing. Putting the stuffing into the cavity of the bird produces a beautiful deliciousness and flavors the meat, which only happens when this is done. Even though the new cooking “rules” suggest not to stuff the cavity of whatever bird you are fixing, I’ll take my chances and stuff away. In all the years I have been cooking, I have never given food poisoning to anyone. Common sense is truly the key.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was always fun to watch in the morning. We would stay in our pajamas and lay on the living room floor, which wasn’t comfortable, but we didn’t care. We were giddy with excitement - especially when the six-story tall balloons like Underdog, Bullwinkle, Popeye, Snoopy and Smokey the Bear floated down Broadway and 34th Street in Manhattan, New York. Diana Ross and Evil Knievel were some of the big names I remember that rode on floats. I especially liked Diana Ross because we share the same name. I didn’t care much for the marching bands and wondered why there were so many.
Our table was filled with many of the traditional foods besides the bird and stuffing: Candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, rolls, wild rice, veggie tray (with yummy black olives), salad and cranberry sauce.
We always had the jellied cranberry sauce that came straight out of the can from Ocean Spray with all it’s perfect ridges. It was served each year on the same flat, oval plate with a wheat spray painted on it. One Thanksgiving my father asked me to bring it to the table. I carried it into the dining room and as a made a fast turn to the table. I watched with horror as it slid off the plate and onto my chair. No one was watching as I picked up the jiggly blob with my hands and plopped it back onto the plate. It was a solid gelatinous mass and absolutely nothing happened to it.
I have no idea who Mildred Tarbet was, but she was at every Thanksgiving that I can ever remember. Actually, she wasn’t physically there, but her wild rice recipe accompanied the yearly feast. My parents would make it for every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and my siblings and I continue to make it for our families on every big holiday. (I included my mother’s copy of the recipe with this column.)
The centerpieces on our table were very simple – small candles in the shape of a turkey and a pilgrim couple paired with a brown wicker cornucopia. These were used for many years and I never remember getting tired of seeing them in the middle of the family table. Our guest list was small – our immediate family of six plus Grandma Chimzar, Auntie Katie and Uncle Totsy.
Dessert was a delightful choice between pumpkin pie, chocolate pudding pie, apple strudel and Geneva Fluff with a graham cracker crust, which is the best vanilla dessert known in the history of mankind. The dessert was accompanied with coffee for the adults. The coffee was made, of course, in a General Electric percolator that sat on the kitchen counter. Back then everyone knew a good appliance had the General’s name on it. My mother got a Mr. Coffee (the first in-home automatic drip brewer) in the early 1970s, but my mother always preferred her percolator.
After dinner, it was to the kitchen for the massive cleanup. Kay usually washed the dishes, Janice “tweezed” them (that’s what we called it) out of the rinse water with a pair of tongs because the water was piping hot and I was the proficient dish dryer with Auntie Katie right there with me. The putting away of all the dishes was a concerted effort between Janice and Mom. Even though I was standing directly in front of the silverware drawer, I refused to put them in the drawer as that was “Janice’s job”. It was my job to dry them only – I know, ridiculous.
The kitchen was very hot after the ovens had been on for hours and the use of all the hot water and people in the kitchen. The window was cracked open above the sink to clear up the steam from the dishes being done. The cold air felt so good coming in on us.
We had piles of snow on many Thanksgivings. It was always “too nice to be inside”, which was code from parents that they had a bellyful of us running amuck in the house. We would put on our appropriate snow-wear and head out for at least a few hours. We kept busy building snowmen, sliding, shoveling snow, dueling snowball fights, making snow angels and pushing each other down in the snow. Ice rinks were flooded, and skating was always on the list, too.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States and celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It is sometimes called American Thanksgiving (outside the United States) to distinguish it from the Canadian holiday of the same name.
It originated as a harvest festival and the centerpiece of Thanksgiving celebrations remains the Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner traditionally consists of foods and dishes indigenous to the Americas, namely turkey, potatoes, stuffing, squash, corn, green beans, cranberries, pumpkin and apple pies. Thanksgiving is regarded as being the beginning of the fall-winter holiday season, along with Christmas and the New Year in American culture.
Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions but has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.
We would have to eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a couple of days afterwards. I would gag at the smell of Turkey Ala King or Turkey with Rice (Slovenian name is rižot). Those two dishes were the holiday version of liver and onions for me. No good.
In grade school, the weeks before Thanksgiving included making art projects centered around turkeys made from a traced image of your handprint, colored leaves, cornucopias, pilgrims, Indians, feather headdresses and teepees. We made these art projects without worry about offending anyone and our parents hung our masterpieces with pride (or maybe sorrow at their children’s artistic skills) for all to view.
Thanksgiving is a day and a long weekend to gather with family, enjoy great food, give thanks and live with gratitude coming out of our pores. We live in the greatest nation in the world and to celebrate it with the people most important in your life is the biggest highlight.
I’ll forgive the lady in the grocery store who yelled at me for taking too long in front of the sweet potato bin. The ‘filler-upper’ guy was running in the back to get more. Had she not had her earphones in her ears, she would have heard me when I told her so. I was masked up and she never got to see me smiling at her. Oh well, we are all under sweet potato stress.
The holidays are stressful enough without COVID in our lives, but as always, I am in pursuit to handle situations with grace. This year we are experiencing incredible uncertainty that is unlike any we’ve known and most days we don’t know what to expect next. There is a quiet invitation waiting for us during difficult times. Philosophers say never let a good crisis go to waste. There is always something to learn. Another way of saying this is when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
I live and dwell in the arena of possibilities and hope. Something good always comes out of bad. This year has been difficult, and we can’t dismiss the hardships of others. For those of us who have dodged the COVID-19 bullet (so far) or have recovered, I am especially thankful for my health. However, we can’t deny all the pain and suffering in the world right now. It could be that we need to acknowledge we are still here fighting for those who can’t. I will claim that life loves me, and I love life no matter what is dealt to me.
As I celebrate the spirit of thanksgiving, I will pause in the midst of the festivities. When gazing over our food laden table, my thoughts will always go to my parents. Dad always said we have to be thankful to have food on the table and a roof over our heads. To be surrounded by the ones you most love is the icing on the cake of life. Being open and receptive to the good and abundance in the universe returns to us with a feeling of expansion.
Raise our glasses in celebration for this great country for a day and long weekend set aside specifically to celebrate God, abundance, love and freedom. God Bless America!
“The Universe loves a grateful
person. The more you thank Life;
the more Life will give you
to be thankful for.”
~ Louise Hay
See you in two weeks. Lots to do for Christmas!