The day always starts early. It's one of those traditions, going back to my days in New England when I was small and the smell of roasting turkey would waft its way upstairs, nudging me awake in what certainly was the dead of night. It would still be dark when I padded down to my mother's kitchen, where a bowl of hot oatmeal or Cream of Wheat was all that awaited.
What a disappointment.
But a 25-pound turkey takes a day and a half to cook, or so it seems when you're young enough to be sent off with your cereal to watch cartoons while the elders lay out the feast, starting with the cranberry glass pickle tray and a big bowl of pecans and walnuts just waiting to be cracked open.
When I was a teenager, it was the clanging of pots and pans that roused me as the sun peeked through my bedroom window; my mother's not-so-subtle way of getting our "keisters" out of bed so we could help with the preparations.
In those days, Thanksgiving eve was like having an extra Friday night; a time to let loose before being cooped up for an entire day with family. Early the next morning, my four siblings and I would grumble and grouse our way down the stairs where mercifully, a pot of hot, perked coffee awaited.
It didn't matter whether we were having 10 or 20 for dinner, my mother always cooked for 100. An ample turkey brimming with the homemade breaded stuffing everyone always raved about. The fixings with vegetables galore — many of the peeling sort — carrots and parsnips, turnips and butternut squash, rutabagas and small onions, too.
"This is overkill. She's crazy," I always thought, mostly because I loathed the peeling chore — particularly the tedious, tear-evoking onions.
She proved me wrong, as parents tend to do, the year the old mahogany drop-leaf table dropped its leaf when we were about to say grace. Bowls of vegetables spilled across the floor like an abstract painting in the making. A Thanksgiving catastrophe was averted and mom was oh-so-sane and very smart, too, because with all that food there was still plenty left on the stove to go around.
Years later, it was early morning feedings and the changing of diapers that got me up. That and the need to get two toddlers, just 17 months apart, out of their pj's, dressed and ready for what would be a hectic day of travel. In those days, we split Thanksgiving between my parents and my in-laws, where I never had to peel anything and jarred pearl onions and honey-drenched pecan rolls from O'Briens Bakery were the delightful traditions.
It's all a wistful batch of memories now. One year runs into another and pretty soon you're living in Florida and thinking that having a couple of grandkids under your feet would be kind of nice.
Nearly 20 years, more than 1,700 miles and the passing-on of various family members stand between me and those old New England Thanksgivings. Even so, pieces of those days endure, I know, as I get to the business of chopping the celery, onions and apples that are the makings for my mom's breaded stuffing. There are jars of pickles and pearl onions to open along with a modest variety of vegetables — some of the peeling sort — prepared by the man-of-the-house who, over the years, has inherited that dreadful chore.
Rounding out the new traditions are the pecan pie baked by the eldest, the middle child's cranberry chutney and sweet breads made by the littlest one.
And as always, the day starts early.
Just one of the many things to give thanks for.
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6251.