Memories of Thanksgiving Past

Pass the gravy, please…

Sometime around 4 o’clock this afternoon, in a dining room somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia, roughly a kazillion of The Legal Genealogist‘s family and friends will sit down for what promises to be a fabulous Thanksgiving feast.

beansMy brother Fred and his lovely wife Nicole are hosting, the food will be scrumptious, the wine will flow, and the love — ah, the love — will abound.

It’s always a joy to get together with any of my brothers and sisters and, this year, half of us will be together in one place this afternoon.

And as we sit down together, joined in love of each other (and of good food and drink), I’m going to do something that … well … is probably going to get me killed.

Flashback. The year is 1960, and it’s coming up fast on Thanksgiving.

And the woman who runs the kitchen around these parts is pregnant.

Very pregnant.

As in “just about any minute now” pregnant.

Now, The Legal Genealogist is nine years old. I still have faith in Truth, Justice, the American Way, and Thanksgiving Dinner on the table without incident, thankyouverymuch.

I mean, seriously, whatever the Powers That Be may be, and whatever warped sense of humor they may have, my mother is not seriously going to go into labor on Thanksgiving Day, is she?

Answer: Of course she is.

Leaving Thanksgiving Dinner in the hands of … tada! … not me.

No, that would have been an unmitigated disaster. Can we say food poisoning, boys and girls? I knew you could. No, the world would probably have had several fewer people in it if I’d been in charge. Or, perhaps, we’d have ended up having beans and franks for dinner.

No, Thanksgiving Dinner 1960 was left in the hands of my older sister, Diana.

With, I admit, a fairly long set of directions about what to do and when to do it.

But come on now. Let’s be serious. We’re talking about an 11-year-old here.

A very competent 11-year-old, for sure.

But an 11-year-old. With “helpers” (if I can use that term loosely) who were ages 9, 5 and 4 at the time.

And parents who were very much preoccupied with something else at the general hospital down the road.

I don’t remember — Diana probably does — how many interim crises there were (there must have been more than a few!) during the preparation of that meal. All recollection of tears shed and words that couldn’t be repeated if the grown-ups were home and threats of murder, mayhem or worse has long since been erased from my memory banks.

What I do remember is that my father came home just about the time dinner was ready with the news that we all had a new little brother, my brother Fred. Baby and mother healthy and doing fine.

And so it was with smiles on our faces, and huge appetites, that we finally sat down at the dining room table to demolish the dinner my sister had so lovingly prepared.

Now, in the years I lived at home, I probably watched my mother make dinner a kazillion times, give or take a few. And I watched her make gravy most of those kazillion times. So I have little doubt that my sister was following my mother’s fairly long set of directions when she dumped the water from the canned green beans into the pan to use as the water to make the gravy.

Gravy that then, of course, with what I suspect was twice as much water-from-bean-cans as my mother might use and with what I also suspect was about half the seasonings my mother’s heavy hand on the spices might have meant — gravy that ended up tasting pretty much like green beans.

Perhaps if we’d have been a little older, it wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps if we’d still been waiting for news from the hospital, we’d have foregone it. Perhaps if I hadn’t been the ringleader…

But you know what happened the first time somebody asked someone else to pass the gravy, right?

I passed the green beans.

And both of our younger siblings burst into hysterical laughter.

At first, Diana was mortified. By the second or third (or fifth or eighth) time it happened, “furious” might be a better word to describe it.

And, of course, it became the standing family joke.

So sometime just after 4 p.m. today, the moment is bound to arrive.

Somebody — somebody — sitting near Diana is bound to ask me to pass the gravy.

And I will look lovingly at my older sister, who has been my closest friend my entire life since the day I was born. I will look at my brother Fred, the host today, the same brother whose birth sent Diana into the kitchen all those years ago. I will look to the heavens for some kind of protection…

And I will pass the green beans.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

And I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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10 Responses to Memories of Thanksgiving Past

  1. Celia Lewis says:

    I’m laughing out loud, Judy! You won’t need luck in such a family full of love – you belong, passing the green beans and all. Have a glorious time!
    And even though I’m a Canadian, a local friend “Canadian born in America” invited me to her Thanksgiving dinner, so I’ll share in Thanksgiving twice this year. Giving thanks is good for us all. Cheers (clink)!

  2. Barbara Schenck says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Judy! I think every family has a few of those that get repeated year after year. The ones from my childhood are ones that only I and one cousin are left to remember. But I will honor them today when my kids and grandkids are celebrating with us. They will become part of family lore and someday no one will be able to say for sure what the kernel of truth is in the much embroidered tale.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If your family is anything like mine, Barbara, your children and grandchildren won’t let the truth interfere with a good story! Hope you had a great day.

  3. Tonya Ferguson says:

    Judy you are such a great writer. It’s those crazy things that happen that we remember the most. I can’t imagine an 11 year old making a turkey dinner but the results are family history that will be preserved for future generations. Thanks for sharing your story and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Hard to believe for sure… but not much choice when the only other contender was giving birth! Hope you had a good Thanksgiving too.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Your story reminded me!! When I was about 12 or 13 my mother decided that it was time for her to take one of her bi-annual vacations at the local hospital the day before Thanksgiving. She neglected to mention that she had invited about 15 outside the immediate family. As the oldest the job of dinner fell to me (Diana I know your pain!). My mother’s sister walked all over me with cleats because I had not made pies. It was years before I spoke to that woman again and I never make pie. Hope your day was wonderful.

  5. Debi Austen says:

    Oh my, I laughed until I cried and then I laughed some more. So, did you survive passing the green beans? I’m laughing all over again just thinking about it! :-)

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