Like many Americans on Thanksgiving morning, my thoughts go back to past Thanksgivings, and I realize how much my expectations of the day are grounded in what I experienced as a child. Preparation for the big noon meal started in earnest the evening before, with Mom making apple pies and pumpkin pies from scratch, baking kolackys and bread, and generally preparing everything to be prepared the next morning. She had no refrigerator and the cook stove burned wood. I cannot imagine or explain how she managed it all, but I do remember that cooking a holiday meal always put her in high spirits. She loved to cook and she loved the excitement of expecting company.
Thanksgiving morning began at 4:45 AM as my folks got up to milk cows and feed silage. My oldest sister, Joyce, helped milk from a very young age, and my sister Judy stayed in the house and had the more difficult job of taking care of me.
When they came in from early morning chores, they smelled of barn, a mixed odor of corn silage, cow, and manure, not unpleasant at the time and even sweet in my memory. Mom brought with her fresh milk in a jar which she had filled that morning and had kept in the milk cooler in the milk house by the barn. Then she would make everyone breakfast, which was a feast in itself. When I was little I ate Grape Nuts Flakes and a big slice of toast made from Mom's homemade bread, which I heaped with butter. My sisters had their own favorite cereals, but Dad and Mom usually had bacon and eggs, cheese, and sausage. The few minutes of sitting down at the breakfast table were the only moments of rest either of them would have until they sat down for the big noon meal.
Then it was back outside for another two hours or so of chores. In the two illustrations below from my book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving, I try to show the variety of chores on a typical morning in 1950.
Mom would try to get back in the house early to continue preparing the meal. By 11:30 AM guests might arrive and usually they would help set the table with Mom's best china, mixed with enough of the everyday tableware so everyone had a place at the line of tables that extended the entire length of the kitchen.
We all know things have changed, and traditions have been updated according to the needs of people. When I was a child, the focus was on visiting and playing games with guests, eating a great meal, and giving thanks for the blessings of the year. I do not lament changes in traditions, and my purpose for writing is never to glorify the past or try to put a stop to change. I just like to portray the past in an accurate but entertaining way. When the children of today get old, they will want to remember what Thanksgiving was like for them when they were kids. I hope they write an illustrated book so future generations can understand how they enjoyed their Thanksgiving Day.
An interesting point I'd like to make, though, is that recently I did a one-hour show, which included my story, A Farm Country Thanksgiving, for the Annual Banquet of the Chisago Historical Society. This was a very lively and friendly audience, and when I brought up certain nostalgic items, people would applaud in agreement or shout out their support. The cheers and applause were loud and long when I said my book "tries to capture a Thanksgiving when most people did not have a television, and no one was concerned about football or parades going on somewhere else." People were concerned with visiting or playing games with the their hosts and their guests.
Thanksgiving traditions at our house have changed, too, but some things have remained constant. In the morning we watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade as Nancy prepares the meal. At noon Nancy and I enjoy a quiet dinner of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, wine, and a dessert of pumpkin pie. We go for a walk after dinner, and about 3:00 PM we will leave to visit our dear niece and nephew, Lisa and Tony, who have invited us over for the afternoon. We look forward to seeing lots of relatives there.
Right now, I've got to get back to watching the parade. My wife tells me the Rockettes are up next.
I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.