Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thoughts of Thanksgiving

7" x 10"

Thanksgiving 2007 is behind us now. When I was teaching, I always had my students do a picture of something that they were thankful for before Thanksgiving. This year, I thought I would give myself the assignment, but I really didn't have time to work that out before the holiday was upon us.
Instead, I did this small watercolor.
I started thinking of being thankful for a roof overhead, a warm place to enjoy, food to eat and to share with family and friends. It isn't a picture of my family, or memories of our Thanksgiving meals, or even our Thanksgiving meal this year. My painting is a general scene of a Thanksgiving gathering. I probably had a few thoughts of holidays and family of the past as I painted this, however. This is another piece of art in my expressionistic style.
Two youngsters are watching tv on the floor, while others are outside tossing a football. More people are arriving, dressed in their Sunday best. Two couples are already seated at the dining room table, talking. The plates are set close together. A big turkey is roasted and waiting at the head of the table. Side dishes of potatoes, dressing, gravy, rolls are on the table, along with butter, cream and sugar.
Once, we had a large family, that gathered for holidays in one of several homes. That sort of rotated according to who felt like being host and hostess for that meal.
The dinette table, dining room table, a large table in the den, card tables, and a little children's table were all full of family, friends, and guests.
Now, our family has dwindled to one aunt in the nursing home, my daughter, her two sons, my sister, and I. I think we are not making enough memories for the younger generation by not having those big family dinners. But, the last time I tried to cook, I had a lot of trouble trying to lift the big turkey and dressing in the pans, and could have used some help. But, my daughter decided that she wanted to go out to eat with friends, and I just told those who my daughter had invited, not to come. We finally had turkey and dressing that night, instead of at noon, as was our custom. But, as I always have said, the best part of the turkey dinner is the sandwiches that you make later. So, that's what we did.
Last year, my sister, daughter, the boys and I went to a local cafeteria for a meal. There was a crowd, and a long line. The food was not very good.
This year, we did the same thing. A friend of my daughter's, her son, her husband, and his father, joined us. The line was very long and not good for bad knees (mine) or backs (my sister). But, the food was much better this year.
After we ate, we took pies to the nursing home, and shared with my aunt and the staff and residents, who wanted, and could have, some pie.
Sadly, by eating out, there were no leftovers to make those wonderful turkey sandwiches!
One Thanksgiving that my dad talked about, for the rest of his life, was the year that I brought home one of my friends from college. He would always talk about the year that we had a real Indian with us for Thanksgiving. And, for her, it was her first time to have Thanksgiving. That year, we had Thanksgiving across the street from my house, with the great-aunt who had the allergy problems.
Our family Thanksgiving meals consisted of two 30 pound turkeys, with corn bread dressing and gravy, a large Pikes Peak red roast with red gravy, a large baked ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, cooked carrots, creamed corn, whole kernel corn, English peas, ambrosia, fruit salad, Jello salad, pears, peaches, jellied cranberries, rolls, bread, bakeless cake with whipped cream, chocolate, pumpkin, lemon meringue, coconut, pecan pies, and marble, coconut, and chocolate cake. Children got milk, with cream still in it, some adults drank iced tea, or "sky juice" (as my dad called it), and most adults drank some coffee. Most drank it with cream and sugar-lots of it! My uncle still preferred his coffee prepared by putting 1/2 cup of cream in his cup, then 4 spoons of sugar, then fillng the rest of the cup with coffee.
I always thought that they were speaking some German at our family dinners as people would say, "Pass the cush, please." Or, "Please pass me the gunwadden". They asked for the "pootie" or the "sawdust". It was only in recent years that I realized that these were some Aggie terms that my dad brought home with him from his time as a student at Texas A&M University. My great-aunt and her brother, my grandfather, did speak German, but that was not it, apparently.
Gunwadden (gun wadding?)-bread
Sky juice-water
Everyone pitched in to do the finishing touches, and get the food on the table. There was much talking as people arrived, and the ladies joined in the kitchen, while the men gathered in the parlor and the living room.
The male head of the table gave the prayer, as the group settled in on chairs, stools, and anything they could find to pull up to the table to sit on, and then we ate and talked.
While the grownups lingered over the table, with coffee and dessert, I would take the kids under the table, where we "decorated". I taught people their ABC's, and to write their names, with crayons on the underside of the table. That was when we were small enough for a lot of us to fit under the table.
When we got tv, we would adjourn to the room with the tv to watch the Aggie-Longhorn game. Daddy and Grandpa, especially, took those Aggie games very seriously. Woe be unto anyone who talked during a crucial play, especially if the Aggies were not doing so well.
Sometimes we would go for a walk, boys would go out and toss a football, or we might go for a drive. But only after the regular crew went into the kitchen to wash and dry dishes, put food away, and get the table ready for supper, or a snack later.
By the time the meal was over, the men were stretching back, loosening their pants, and unbuckling their belts. Some would have to have a little short nap in their parlor chair while their food went down!
Despite eating all that food, repeated trips to nibble on "just a little bite" were in order through the afternoon and even late into the night.
Our tradition, in our family, was, after eating, and resting for a while, we would go out to the pasture and pick out our Christmas tree. We would get a Cedar tree, always too large, which Daddy would have to cut down and bring home. Sometimes, he just left it tall and bending over at the top. Eventually, though, Mama would get him to take the tree out and cut it down some more. Then he would make a stand for it, with two boards, crossed over, and some bricks around it to hold the tree upright. Those would be covered with a roll of cotton from the store (Conitz Dry Goods Store-grandpa's store), to simulate snow. Mama's ornaments would come out of the linen closet, where she kept them during the year, and we would hang decorations-or were they really toys for the cats to play with!
We discovered that snow for the tree could be made from powdered washing detergent, mixed with a little water, to make a paste. Then that could be scattered on the tree. I still remember the year that Daddy brought home a box of Cheer instead of Tide, so we had blue snow on our tree. We always preferred the bought things, but, sometimes, we had to make do with whatever we could find.
Sometimes, our tree would be in a corner of the living room, other years, it would be in the center of the recessed windows in the living room. Mama's baby grand piano held the tree some years, but usually, the room was just full with the sofa, piano, and a big tree, plus smaller furniture, and a heater.
One great-aunt had serious problems with allergies, and, at one point, she couldn't come in the house with our Cedar tree. Daddy also had planted a Cedar tree at each corner of the house, and had low Cedar shrubs by the front steps. "Toot", my great-aunt, would stand out in the yard to talk to Mama. Sadly, she had to give up working in the yard she loved so much. But, eventually, she recovered and she wasn't even sure why. She came to our house for a brief visit for Christmas Eve, when she was suffering with allergies, with the rest of the family. She was covered up, wore a scarf over her face, even - like a bandit, and left quickly.
Christmas is another story.
For this year, our fall and Thanksgiving things have been put away, and Christmas things are appearing. We don't go into the woods to cut down a Cedar tree, these days. Our tree comes from a box in the store room! Not nearly as much fun. But, we will have some hot chocolate while we put on decorations. Most of the decorations, are put up around the house. We still have to get the tree up. But, it has turned cold, and rainy. At least it is beginning to feel like Christmas this year. And we can use the rain. Usually, it is warm and sunny, and it is really hard to get in the mood.
This year, I'm ready to have some hot chocolate and do Christmas cards. (Still wish I had some good left over turkey for sandwiches, though.)
Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope that your Thanksgiving was memorable, and good.
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Mandy said...

Thanksgiving has changed a lot for me as well because of moving across the country from our extended family. But you learn to make new traditions and new memories. And I think they can be just as warm. I really like this painting. Love the two kids by the TV and the depiction of family hanging out...inside and outside...before eating a meal together. You captured Thanksgiving, from how I used to know it, very beautifully.

Nancy Standlee said...

Wonderful story, C. really enjoyed reading it and seeing your painting. I'm sorry you're having so much eye trouble..will forward that post to a friend who may need to read it. ns

Laura Brittain said...

Cecelia, I bet we had Thanksgiving lunch together and didn't know it. Me, my three little boys, my mother-in-law, father-in-law and my husband ate at Luby's this year. My husband's brother was out of town that day at his in-laws, and my husband's sister and her kids were not able to come, so my MIL didn't want to cook a big meal. The line was SOOOO long. I was amazed that that many people did that (that was the first year we had done it). Your description of your childhood Thanksgivings aren't so different from mine ... especially the A&M/t.u. game scenario. :o) Glad you had a good Thanksgiving. You are ahead of me on the Christmas decorations. I'm still not feeling 100% and the 19 mo old has caught another cold! He seems to be feeling a little better (at least he has slept through the night the past two nights). I haven't been able to paint and I miss it. I have two commissioned pieces that I need to get done ... well, at least one by the end of the year and the other needs to be done by January. Trying to paint with little ones is so hard sometimes ... though I wouldn't trade the moments with them for anything. I would love to get some art lessons in from someone sometime. I need to go back and reread the e-mail you sent me a while back. Anyway, take care and I enjoyed your post.