November 3, 2011

In and Out of the Quad Cities – It’s Thanksgiving Time in the Quad-Cities

Contributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

November seems to be one of those twix seasons – sandwiched between Halloween and the holidays like yesterday’s turkey between two of slices of stale toast. Let’s face it – nothing much happens until the last week of November. But once things crank up, life is a blitz of activity for the next six weeks. Ok, we’ll grant you – November is a great time for early bird shopping, but otherwise – November is about Thanksgiving.

Strangely, the words of a song we learned back in the Eisenhower Administration still find a way to percolate to the front and center of our consciousness this time of year. It went something like, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…” As cute little 1950s munchkins, we recited that refrain, completely unaware someday that famous sleigh full of pilgrims would be heading to our hacienda. But let’s get back to our vision of the perfect Thanksgiving celebration.

The consummate family gathering – Thanksgiving meant getting together at Grandmother’s house. The best of these trips meant we left right after school on Wednesday and arrived on Thanksgiving Eve. Mostly, this meant we slept in pallets across Granny’s floor. Kids sprawling out in every direction of that coveted spot on the bedroom floor.

As a child watching from a distance, the hustle and bustle of kitchen activities appeared mysterious and magical. In her effort to produce the vast quantities of food required to feed the family, dear old Granny used an array of kitchen gadgets that would make Ron Popiel blush. And, we’re not referring to modern – all of these featured wooden handles and seemed to be operated with brisk flicks of the wrist or quick turning momentum. Except for one…

Part of every meal included some ingredient which needed mixing – no Cuisinart or blender used here.

Instead a metal cased Sunbeam mixer was brought out of a back corner of the cabinet. And, after a short lesson and qualifying test drive, we were allowed to run the mixer. Whether the recipe called for white icing for a cake or frothy whipped cream for the pumpkin pie mix, we got to run the mixer. Up and down, round and round – we stood on a stool and demonstrated our capacity as a mixer operator. It must have been a hereditary skill, because Grandma told us and our cousins we had to be some of the best mixers in the world.

But running the mixer was just part of the fun. After the mixing was through, we were allowed to clean the bowl. The bowl mixer blades and a whole bunch of spoons were shared with the cousins. We furiously attacked whatever drippings and droplets left in the bowl like a school of hungry piranha.

We awoke early the next morning to the sounds of more activity in the kitchen. Grandma was busy getting the turkey ready for the big day. We always kept an eye peeled for the turkey dressing – we expected some kind of calico dress or at least a nice little nightgown. It was only when we got a little older we learned the true meaning of “dressing the turkey.” And the turkey itself was a thing of beauty. A trip to the local grocery reveals birds of all sizes, but we swear the turkey of our fifth year must have weighed in at 88 pounds. A giant of the species, it no doubt dominated the farm yard prior to its untimely meeting with Farmer Jones.

Once the kitchen activity died down, Granny gathered us around her big black and white RCA console unit to watch The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Giant floats, great bands a few TV stars and the Mummers danced across the screen. For a couple of small town Oklahoma girls, the mystique of those strange guys dressed up in Mummer’s costumes was fascinating. After the parade, we talked about Philadelphia, New York, California and all those faraway places that we would visit as adults.

By the time the parade was over, we started to bore of the whole adult scene. We would explore the backyard and the alley behind Granny’s house. We would wander around the block or play with our cousins, who started to appear in droves. Other times, we would join our dads for a quick ride to the grocery store for some forgotten ingredient. The festive mode was carried over at the store, and typically we scored a moon pie or a candy bar for our efforts. But it didn’t ruin our young appetites.

Sometime in between noon and early afternoon Grandma would call the family into the feast. Turkey, dressing,
cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, corn, peas, green bean casserole, French bread, oyster stuffing and pie – pumpkin and apple. Nope, we didn’t ruin our appetites.

Hope you have a great November… Don’t ruin your appetite!