Today isn't Thanksgiving or even Christmas; it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This year we didn't host the feast but visited bearing other dishes.
It's been a few years since I've had the honor of roasting the holiday bird. Oh, don't get me wrong, we often cater the feast at our home, but over the last few years, hubby has had all the accolades with his "cranberry smoked" or "Cajun deep-fried" turkeys. I just do all the prep work. Something has been missing until today.
Thanksgiving isn't really there until you can sneak into the kitchen for sandwiches. I wanted turkey sandwiches and we didn't have the leftover turkey. Thus I had a turkey that I'd been thawing just for today. That bird was my little baby to ensure it had been properly thawed, washed, and patted dry. Seasoned with a good dry rub of herbs, I then stuffed it with quartered oranges, apples, and onions—and a few other secret things and popped the big bird into the oven on a low heat to roast throughout the day with periodic bastings and checks.
As with any holiday event, we compare them with those bygone events. Rarely does the present measure up to the glory that is the past. I can still smell the aromas of the turkeys that Mom roasted. It was combined with the yeasty richness of the fresh breads and pies along with the tang of the sauerkraut. The bounty of the offering nearly bowed the table.
Thanksgiving in our house always began early in the morning. We'd spent much of the evening before shining up the house before our company arrived. Mom knew what she was doing when she birthed three daughters, that gave her three extra sets of hands at her command—and she did!
The mammoth bird would be getting a last minute soak as the butter melted in the large cast iron skillet before the onions and celery were made tender and the fresh breadcrumbs were toasted in the oven. The smell of sage permeated the house. It was only the first wave of delights to come. Every hand was busy, but they were glad hands. Mom had her agenda and it seemed so easy. The Christmas music played, old stories were told, and warnings were given.
Yea, there were warnings and dire threats laid out. Like so many vultures circling a tempting target, we children loitered when not at our tasks. The smell of roasted bird was maddening. We wanted "just a taste."
Mountains of peeled potatoes later; we hovered a little too close. Mom kept our hands busy and away from taste testing the bird once it came out of the oven to cool. As we grew older we learned the fine art of tag-teaming her—one would create a distraction while the other homed in on the prize. We rotated.
It wasn't long before she caught on, but we were many and she was only "one." Mom being "Mom", we were still outnumbered; yet we fought the good fight. If we were lucky, the bird would take on a rather naked appearance before it even got carved. The roasted "skin" of the bird was our downfall, every one of us thought it the greatest treat—save for the heart and the gizzard.
For those with a less than discerning palate, the heart of a turkey or chicken is unique. The gizzard is a step-down, but still wonderful. In our house, you waited your turn for years to get one of them. Dad wouldn't touch either of them, but Mom and we three girls fought for them like a ravaging pack of wolves. For a longish time, we had to "take turns." In later years, Mom was sweet and would ask the butcher for extras. However, the skin of the bird was still for the swiftest. Mom would scold and we would laugh, and she didn't think we caught her secret smiles.
The day itself seemed to last forever. While it might be cold and raw outside, inside the house was a wonderful haven. The rest of the world might have disappeared and we would never have known it. We were totally focused upon this family event.
The old stories and new stories we told and shared and laughed over. We were instructed on just how to mix the flour and water for the gravy without lumps. We learned how to make the pie crust with care and roll out the dough. The house was filled with warmth, love, and many voices.
Oh sure, there were a few tears here and there. Sometimes one or another of us girls got embarrassed over a tale told or an instruction we didn't get right, yet overall we would wish the day to live on and on.
It was Grandmom who had the patience to teach me not to peel a large potato down to the size of a smallish walnut, but it was Mom's watchful eye and bitten tongue that taught me the art of making real gravy. Keeping a watch on the bread as the dough rose close to the hearth of the wood stove was another art form. The fire crackled and snapped. The music played on in a low background accompaniment. Often, all the women and girls stopped to sing along and dissolve into the giggles.
Thanksgiving was a real event in our home, not just a "holiday" day off from work and school. We were thankful that our family was together and we felt an overwhelming sense of love and care—even when Mom barked at us over something we didn't get right.
Even though today wasn't Thanksgiving and the house wasn't full of people that don't live here, the quiet sureness of manipulating the turkey in the early morning hours gave me a sense of the past. I could hear my mother's commands and chastisements still alive in my ears. The baking bread and the roasting turkey warmed the house. No fireplace have I. I lit the candles and played the music—and remembered.