Thanksgiving Memories

 I hate that Thanksgiving gets lost in the frenzy of Christmas.  Saw a great meme the other day that reflects my feelings:

The War on Christmas cannot end until Christmas stops its illegal occupation of November. 

I like Thanksgiving partly because it does – or used to – herald the start of the Christmas season, not that it was part of Christmas. Growing up, it seemed an unwritten rule that no Xmas decorations could go up until the day after Thanksgiving.  Then I moved to Minnesota and realized getting outdoor decorations up early was a practicality because by Thanksgiving there potentially is ice and snow everywhere, and perching on a ladder to hang lights from the eaves was dangerously stupid.  But just because lights are up doesn’t mean you have to turn them on.  So while I’ve relaxed my standards, I sure do wish the other side would relax a little.  I mean, at least wait until after Halloween.

So while I admit that ranting about the retail Christmas season that starts around Labor Day is as futile as trying to block all those calls trying to sell me an extended auto warranty, I will just continue to enjoy Thanksgiving for the deep breath it provides before the holiday onslaught and the anticipation of the festivities to come.  I have a lot of good memories of Thanksgiving’s past, and wanted to share a couple of recent ones. 

The first was when we moved to Minnesota in 2012.  Dave’s Aunt Tootie always loved to host a big holiday meal.  At almost 90, she was very ‘old school’ and would bring out the ‘good china’ and silver.  It was a rather balmy Minnesota fall day with temp in the low 60s, even though all the leaves were off the trees.  We arrived with Dave’s parents at her St. Paul home to find the table already set with the ‘good china’ and silver.  Her home was already a time warp back about five decades, and always felt like walking into a museum of mid-century America.  She had prepared the entire feast on her 1940’s Magic Chef stove and a 1950s turkey roaster that only came out for the holidays.  I honestly don’t know how she did it.  It truly was like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. 

Aunt Tootie's Magic Chef stove, with the turkey roaster sitting on top.

Four hours later, after stuffing ourselves with turkey, wild rice, mashed potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, jello salad, pickles, two kinds of cranberry sauce, and at least two kinds of pie, we stepped outside to discover an inch of snow already on the ground and more rapidly falling. It was literally as if as soon as we finished the dishes, winter and the Xmas season started.  We drove back to Stillwater in a snowstorm and temperatures 30 degrees lower than when we left.  I think this was also the moment when I realized that Minnesota living was going to be verrrryyyy different from anywhere else I had ever lived. 

A couple years later, Dave and I were hosting the Ratte family dinner at our home in Stillwater.  Mid-morning on Thanksgiving Dave is perusing the very full frig and inquires as to the whereabouts of the Jello.

“Jello?  What Jello?”

“The red Jello with the fruit cocktail.  It’s traditional Thanksgivingl fare.  With Cool Whip.”

“I’m pretty sure Jello didn’t come over on the Mayflower, nor did the Native Americans have Cool Whip.  And neither  do I.” 

“No Cool Whip?!?  What are we putting on the pumpkin pie?”

“I’ll make real whipped cream.”

“But I like the fake stuff.  Maybe Mom has some Cool Whip,”  and he heads off to make a phone call.

Well, of course JP (as we all called Dave’s mom) with her it-was-on-sale-so-I-got-ten shopping strategy on a fixed income, had not only Cool Whip in one of her three freezers, but also plenty of Jello in her coat-closet-retrofitted-as-a-walk-in-pantry.  She eagerly agreed to bring the jello with fruit cocktail, always up to a tasking. 

Everyone arrives a couple hours later, each with their own contributions to the meal, including JP with her Jello salad.  I was impressed, because every time I made Jello it would take several hours to set completely.  JP said she had expedited it by sticking it in the freezer instead of the frig, since she was on a short time frame.  It really did look quite festive, a shiny bright red ring with a little bit of Jello jiggle as it sat perfectly turned out from its mold onto a platter.

We sat down at the table and the plate piling commences as we pass all the fixings around the table family style.  There was so much food and so many people squeezed around our dining table that once everything had made the rounds I had to put it on a folding table set up just behind me on my left, staged within reach awaiting the call for seconds.  Grace was said, and quiet descended around the table as we all ate.  

Suddenly, a mysterious slurping sound emanated from just over my left shoulder.  We all looked over just in time to see the Jello mold’s faint quiver progress to the oscillation of pure harmonic motion, then collapse and slide off the plate, over the edge of the table, and onto the floor with a loud sucking sound and a SPLAT!  It was like The Blob hijacked Thanksgiving dinner.

There were gasps and surprised exclamations all around, which brought the dogs running over faster than Dave and I could get out of our chairs.  They sniffed at it briefly, decided it wasn’t turkey or bacon Jello and walked away as we all continued laughing.  I mean, true ROF kind of L.

It turns out that Jello is not conducive to freezing.  It ‘sets’ with small pockets of ice, and then when thawed at room temperature – say on a serving platter in a dining room – it’s loses the gelatinous qualities holding 3it together and returns to a more liquid state.  Kind of like if the steel beams on a skyscraper melted when the temperature got above 75 deg.  It looks normal until it becomes a giant red stain on the dining room floor.  Fun with chemistry on Thanksgiving — who knew?.  

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with family and friends and making new memories.  Memories that hopefully don’t have anything to do with Jello, because let me tell you that stuff leaves a major stain.  A major stain that made me smile every time I saw it.

5 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Memories”

  1. What great Thanksgiving memories, Karen! Thanks for sharing them. Have a safe and blessed day.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving!
    That roaster reminded me of Thanksgiving at the Goetz’s. Fran always make the turkey in a roaster that looked like she inherited from her mother. It made sense to not heat up the house with an oven when it was 80 degrees in Huntington Beach.
    My sister started smoking the turkey for that reason. She still did it in Seattle when it made cooking an adventure to run out to the Weber in the rain to check on it.
    Look forward to your post Thanksgiving commentary.

  3. Love that pioneer spirit! We still use my grandmother’s stuffing recipe with Hawaiian spin, combined sage and ginger.

  4. I loved your memories. Many, many years of a beautiful table set just for coffee and the largest variety of cookies whenever we would go to great grandmas. Even a few years ago, Tootie had the table all set when we brought her desert. Your jello story is a true classic. Your memories priceless.

    Hope you and Dave and Roxie made some new memories this year on your adventure. We are in NYC visiting our daughter for the first time in 4 years. Sans Turkey, we did the whirlwind tour of NYC in a day, starting with the parade. 12.44 miles and countless subway rides later, I feel we crammed in everything. Was not traditional, but Tom and I think it was the best Thanksgiving. Memories for a lifetime.

    Best to you both and lots of Christmas joy (and I’m all in with you on the far too early decor thing)!

  5. Great memories and you have such a great way of telling the stories — makes me laugh every time and I often read it to my husband! I must be old school because I do so many similar things on Thanksgiving….the china & silver, the jello, multiple pies, the over-abundance of food, etc. Thanks for sharing!

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