Thoughts and Memories on Turkey Day

November 26, 2009

As my bride and I prepare to head to her eldest son’s house to watch him deep-fry a turkey — and share in the feast that goes with it — my thoughts drift back to Thanksgiving Day, 1965.

As a college student, I, and the group of guys I roomed with, worked in the cafeteria. In addition, we had all learned to cook while still living at home. As a result, we often created some scrumptious meals.

A perfect example is the time we decided to hold a spaghetti dinner for our entire fraternity. We made the noodles from scratch. We also made the salad dressing from scratch. (We’d forgotten to buy it and one of the guys spent a summer working as a salad chef in Atlantic City.)

Just prior to the Thanksgiving break in 1965, we decided to have our own turkey dinner. We cooked everything from scratch and shared a marvelous meal.

Then we all headed to our respective homes to enjoy the time with our family and friends.

On the big day, we sat down to my mother’s version of the Thanksgiving feast. Everything was going great until one of my brothers looked at me and said, “It must be great for you to come home to such a wonderful home cooked meal!”

I never told my family that I lied that day.

Of course I said “Yes! It is wonderful!” However, I couldn’t help thinking about the great feast we had enjoyed in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. I also couldn’t admit the one ingredient that made my college meal better than my mom’s.

My friends and I had enjoyed a few bottles of wine with our dinner. Mom wouldn’t have dreamed of serving any sort of alcohol with her meals.

Red wine sure goes well with turkey. I wonder if my step-son will serve red wine today.

Whether he does or not, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time.

Between us, my bride and I have seven grown children and thirteen grandchildren. I’d say we have lots of things to be thankful for on this turkey day.

Maybe Mom Didn’t Love the Neck

December 3, 2008

When I was growing up, mom always ate the neck of any bird that wound up on our dinner table. It didn’t matter if it was a chicken, turkey, or the occasional pheasant or grouse shot by one of my older brothers. She simply loved picking the meat off the neck bones.

I made a pot of turkey soup yesterday. For whatever reasons, we had a lot more leftovers this Thanksgiving and my bride and I were getting tired of turkey this and that. I put the carcass, legs, and other dark meat in my beer brewing pot, added water and broth, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. Then I pulled out the bones to remove the meat.

As I picked the meat off the neck bones, I recalled how my mother would pick the neck bones clean. So I took a taste of the meat. It was nothing special. If anything, it was a bit bland. I wondered why my mother considered the neck to be the greatest delicacy of all.

Then it dawned on me. Four boys and mom and dad sat at that dinner table to divide one chicken. I usually got a wing or two, dad got a breast, and the other three boys divided up the other breast and the two drumsticks. There wasn’t much left after that. Come to think of it, mom might have taken the back along with the neck. Neither piece had much meat. Then again, it wasn’t the chicken that mom loved… it was her husband and sons that meant the world to her.

Mom was a martyr from the old school. She gave up many things so that her family would not have to do without. Dad never earned much more than $3.00 per hour, but he and mom stretched that money about as far as anyone could hope to stretch it.

Having lived through the Depression, their money never saw the inside of a bank… unless it was taken there to pay a bill. The dresser my parents used is one I’m still using. Unlike many pieces of furniture built today, this dresser has a thin board between each drawer. That was perfect for mom’s cash distribution.

When dad brought home his pay (in cash), it was separated into piles – one each for the mortgage, gas bill, electric bill, water bill, groceries, insurance, taxes, and one pile for our annual vacation to New Jersey. Sadly, there was seldom anything left for savings. After the initial separation, the piles were placed in envelopes along with the cash from the prior paydays and then put under their designated drawers. When a bill was due, the appropriate envelope was taken out and mom walked to the bank.

In those days, you could pay bills other than the mortgage at the bank. As I recall, mom paid the utility bills there. For other bills, she would purchase money orders.

After mom died of a heart attack in 1966, I learned that she had a bad heart. I was never told because she didn’t want me to stop bringing my laundry home from college so she could wash and iron my stuff while I went out with my friends.

Over the years Dad had numerous medical procedures – most in futile attempts to improve his eyesight. I don’t remember mom ever going to a doctor. My guess is she didn’t want to ‘waste’ the money.

I was twenty-one years old when mom died. Over the years I’ve learned different things about her medical conditions that went virtually untreated. She knew how much money was in each of those envelopes. It was like the chicken; she took the parts that would have been left over because nobody else wanted them. She wouldn’t have dreamed of taking something that might be needed by those she loved.

It’s strange to say, but from now on I’ll think of mom every time I see the neck of a bird. And I’ll thank God for the love that neck represents.