I have always told my daughters to “stay young,” and enjoy their childhood.
In a previous post, I mentioned the difficulties that I have with holidays. I wanted to make sure that my daughters did not experience my grief and struggles, especially during this time of year. I really do not have many memories of Thanksgiving as an adult, other than my diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and a few photos of my daughters with arts and crafts that they made in school for the holiday.
As a youth myself, I do have a few memories that I am able to recall, fond ones in fact.
There was the annual Thanksgiving Day high school rivalry football games, played early Thanksgiving Day chilly mornings. Usually there was a bonfire and pep rally held the night before, followed by a school dance.
There was also the “powder puff” flag football game where the girls got to play the football game, and yes, the boys were the cheerleaders.
And still, before we got to the official NFL turkey day game, many of us got together to play a game of football ourselves, a tradition from childhood, thru adulthood trying to prove we still could do it.
This time of year also meant the return of holiday specials that we looked forward to, the same ones, year after year. These timeless treasures are still so entertaining as they were fifty plus years ago.
But if there is one memory that I do miss about Thanksgiving from my childhood, is a particular item on our annual menu, stuffing. Not just any stuffing either.
Stuffing cooked in the bird! There is/was nothing like it. It is pretty much unthinkable these days with all the awareness of the hazards of this delicacy. But back in the day, we had four particular starches on the Thanksgiving table, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, homemade bread stuffing (a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe, simply the best!), and stuffing from the bird (this was actually the regular stuffing, just stuffed into the carcass of the turkey, as well as chickens at other meals).
This is the part where you either think this is the best side dish in the world, or you turn your stomach. The stuffing cooks inside the turkey as it cooks, absorbing the flavoring of the turkey into it. Think of it no different than adding stock or gravy for flavor. Now of course, the problem is, the turkey before being cooked, is raw meat, laden with bacteria that can lead to an unpleasant way to spend the holiday.
As the most popular side dish back in my childhood, so popular it was always the first thing put on plates, there was only so much of it available, which fit inside the bird. It did not matter that my grandmother made to complete dishes of regular “filling” (what we called it), it was the “filling from the bird” that everyone wanted, and it was likely, that depending how many were sitting at the table, someone might be left out without any on their plate. But the flavoring of the “filling from the bird” was like no other.
Besides the fact, that we ate turkey leftovers for days, another way to turn over the left over “regular” filling, my grandmother would then make “potato pancakes”.
I have a lot of these memories, alas, they were all prior to my grandmother passing. As many families experience, losing such a prominent matriarch of a family, families often struggle to remain committed to these family holidays. As was our situation. Add in my diagnosis in 1988, I never looked forward to this holiday again.
With the arrival of my daughters, I did my best to once again, embrace the holiday. While the holiday itself still meant nothing to me (I worked every holiday, something I regret and resent), it did signal the beginning of the next season, Christmas, and traditions that would follow such as decorating, and of course getting their Christmas tree. I will save these memories for their own post.
There is a reason I tell my daughters to hang on to their childhood as long as they can. It only lasts approximately eighteen years. That is not a lot of time to have all the fun and memories you can pack in.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.