by Rochelle Valasek
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By Rochelle L. Valasek
Thanksgiving was such a special gathering time for my family. A time that we could forget about our busy lives that society had put us into and become who we were born to be; kinfolk.
The men would gather in the front room watching the football game listening to grandfather tell the story of his walking to school barefooted in the snow. Poor Grandpa, he would just be getting to his favorite part of the story when-TOUCHDOWN! - Everyone would spring from their seats hooting and hollering giving each other ‘high-fives’. But Grandpa never minded, he was hollering right with them.
I was always in the kitchen -- helping mother and grandmother preparing the feast above all feasts. As soon as you would walk into the kitchen you would get an apron thrown on you with someone tying it in the back. If you didn’t want to be a part of the ‘Cooking Hens,’ then you didn’t step foot in or near the kitchen because you would be instantly drafted.
The kitchen would be filled with grandmothers, mothers and aunts. Every one of us would have a station to man - someone on the noodles, another manning the green bean casserole duties and so on. I usually would be on mashed potatoes. But you know what happens when you put a bunch of ladies together in a kitchen…a perfect meal. With everyone having a secret way of doing the preparations.
“Now you have to use your hands to mix the stuffing around or you won’t get the right taste. That’s what my mother always did.” My grandmother would say with a matter-of-fact tone. I would just shake my head with a smile knowing, strangely, she was probably right.
“When making homemade noodles you have to let them lay overnight the night before on newspaper.” Why newspaper? I’m still not quite sure.
Stories of Thanksgivings before would be shared.
“Do you remember the time your aunt tried to take the turkey out of the oven and dropped it on the floor?” Everyone would laugh hysterically pointing at my aunt in agreement that they would never forget that one.
My grandmother would remind us, “Remember when Papa was helping bring the pies up and fell up the stairs falling on the pies! Now that was a good one!”
“Remember when we were so poor we could only make milk pie for dessert on Thanksgiving!” my great-grandmother would exclaim.
Just by how she said it, you knew that she was thankful for where she is and where she came from. Great-grandma was always our entertainment in the kitchen. She would sing little songs while she cleaned out “Tom the Turkey.”
After the turkey was cleaned, my aunt would make the turkey dance for me. She did that ever since I can remember and still would do it today if given the chance. It still makes me laugh thinking about it now. A headless naked turkey dancing is enough to make anyone laugh.
There would be egg timers all over the kitchen. The only built-in timer would be in my grandmother’s stove. I don’t know how they knew what egg timer went to what food preparation but they seemed to always get it right.
It was about this time that one of the men was sent into the kitchen to see how things were coming along and to try and get a little sample.
Grandma would just hit their hands from the lids and say, “Now, it’s not done yet, we will let you know. Now get out of here before we cook you for dinner!”
I mean, who could blame them? The scents of cooking turkey and stuffing would be wafting all through the house. It would make anyone’s mouth water.
Even clean-up was filled with good memories. After dinner sometimes the men would help clean the table, but for the most part, we women went back to our stations and started on operation clean-up. This is when my aunt made a beeline to the bathroom. That way she could stall and hope to get out of washing dishes. And she usually was successful. Of course we had to razz her from the kitchen. We knew she was probably just sitting on the edge of the bathtub reading.
My great-grandmother, being the strict conservative Baptist women, still would surprise us once every Thanksgiving with a swear word. We didn’t know why, but for some reason, she always would get mad when cleaning off the carcass of the turkey for leftovers. We knew it was coming, but we still would act as if we were in awe of her ‘sinful ways.’
I never did stray from their instructions. To this day, I still do Thanksgiving dinners their way. According to the old timers, we still can make the Thanksgiving dinner above all Thanksgiving Dinners.
Simple Stuffing Recipe
Stick of butter (no substitute)
3 stalks of celery
1 large onion
1 loaf of stale bread
Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt
My grandmother would always lay the slices of bread out on the table the night before Thanksgiving to make them stale. Melt the butter in a saucepan. After chopping up the celery and onion, put into saucepan with butter. Cook on med-high until onions are translucent.
Take the bread slices and rip them up into bite size pieces. (Make sure you use your hands.) Put the torn up bread into a big container. Salt and pepper, and sprinkle thoroughly with crazy salt. After the celery mixture is done and cooled enough to touch, pour over the torn bread. Mix with your hands. Put into bird’s cavity to cook. Any stuffing that is left over just put in oven-safe container and cook with turkey. When turkey is done, take out stuffing and mix with the extra.
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