I can’t say that I have the fondest memories of family Thanksgiving dinners 60 years or so ago. I think it all started when I was 5.
Even though the turkey is the Thanksgiving bird, for some reason I became the “go-fer.” I had serious responsibilities, beginning with helping to put the tablecloth pads on the dining room table. After the twice-a-year tablecloth was in place, the really nasty work began.
I am sure that this ritual is familiar to many of you. First, I had to put the “good” plates where they belonged, with the admonition from my mother to “be careful” with every plate I picked up. Most years, if my fading memory serves me correctly, it was our family of five plus a few relatives from New Jersey.
I didn’t just put out dinner plates, but soup bowls, salad bowls, wine and water glasses and I had to listen to that caution notice. Granted, I didn’t put out the china and silverware all by myself, as one of my two older brothers might pitch in.
You might think that a youngster of 6 or 7 would look forward to the turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, some green vegetable and maybe a slice of seven-layer cake, but you would be wrong. That’s because after every course, someone – guess who? – would have to clear the plates and bring them to the kitchen. Naturally, after dinner was over, and the “adults” would retire to the living room, that same individual would be obliged to help with the dishes.
In the late 1940s and early ‘50s, dishes were simply done in the sink and put in the rack to dry. I was sometimes honored with the job of drying the dishes and afterward putting them away.
I think my ceremonial chores continued until I was 11 or 12, when we finally got a dishwasher. At that point, in the early or mid-50s, a 30-year-old house would not have an installed dishwasher. We had a monster appliance that just sat near the sink until you wheeled it closer to the cabinets to put the clean dishes away. You might want to guess who usually had the job of loading and unloading the dishwasher. I did not get to watch television until the after-dinner chores were done, and, often as not, I then had to sit with extended family and listen to everyone’s fascinating stories.
Usually the conversation turned to the faults of someone who was not there. I still recall after more than 60 years, a woman we referred to as “aunt” but was actually a family friend, describing the dining habits of someone’s son. Aunt Ethel said that the young man had never learned table manners and, “he ate like 20 pigs.” Ironically, that young man became a senior physician at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York.
I bet more people have a recollection of a Norman Rockwell kind of Thanksgiving, rather than a four-hour series of chores. Of course, those “chores” include watching a football game. And if a home-style dinner seems like too much work, we can always go out for Thanksgiving.
For many of the past 20 years or so, we’ve driven to Mendocino or perhaps Monterey. Either way, I don’t have to set the table, although I do help my wife Clare with all the work. And I do the most difficult part of our celebration, which means planning the menu. This year might be turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!
Bud Stevenson, a stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]