Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thanksgiving Memory

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I  tend to miss my mother most, I think, at Thanksgiving.  In fact, just last week I was telling the other folks in the teachers’ lounge about Mom’s incredible “stir and roll” (Betty Crocker) pie crust.  Absolutely the best I’ve ever tasted, rich, flaky, perfect every time, especially as part of her renowned plum pie which appeared (along with apple and pumpkin) at Thanksgiving.  That crust has, I’m afraid, spoiled me for the ready-made variety!

Thanksgiving was always at our house and it was always very full, brimming with all four children and their families in more recent years.  In years past, it was my aunt and uncle and my cousins, and of course their families as time went on.  Mom cooked for weeks preparing ahead of time, and resolutely refused to let folks bring anything or do dishes (though of course she was overruled on both counts).  The one dish that we haven’t had since we stopped doing Thanksgiving at their place is sauerkraut with pork.  I know…it doesn’t fit the mold of traditional Thanksgiving fare, but Mom was most definitely a Pennsylvania-Dutch cook and my, but it was good!  She would cook it all the day before, I think incorporating an entire pork roast, then set it on the window unit air conditioner just outside the dining room to cool (I suppose to keep the smell at bay), with a large rock on top so critters could not feast on it before we did.

Just before we ate, Dad would offer a lovely prayer or The Doxology was sung by everyone.   There was always that heaping of plates, and groans of “Oooh….I can’t possibly eat any more,” only to be replaced by, “Well, Marcia, maybe just a sliver of your plum pie.”  The cream was always freshly whipped right before desserts were laid out, and was the final, glorious topping for those pies.  And there was more than the pies; raspberry jello with canned fruit as a sort of simple bit of sweetness, as well as for any little ones present, who loved to see it wiggle and sway.  Finally, there was one dessert that was my favorite and which I incorporated into my family’s Thanksgivings when we lived too far away to come home.  Totally decadent and prepared the day before Thanksgiving, it consisted of chocolate or coconut wafers with real whipped cream between each one, then covered in same, to form a rich, soft loaf by the time it was spooned into the next day.  I haven’t thought of that particular confection in years…how it takes me back!

Mother and Dad are both gone now, but we kids and the grandkids still gather to feast on all the staples.  While the meals are always good, they’re never, of course, as delicious as those that Mom labored over for so many hours.  I suspect that though the ingredients are the same and recipes similar if not identical, there is an intangible that is missing from the repast. It is, of course, the joy Mom both received and gave as she went about her cooking weeks in advance.  Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday, and it showed; it’s mine, too.  And you know, this year I’m going to bake Mom’s plum pie.  I suspect she’d like that.

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The Season’s Reason

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Each year for as long as they can remember, the citizens of our small town have been treated to what is dubbed the “Old Time Christmas Parade.”  The fact that this event is annually held more than a month before the actual holiday in no way dampens the Christmas spirit exhibited by either its participants or audience.  Indeed, an abundance of green and red is evident, and Santa hats abound.  Small children wait patiently (or not) for the grand marshal–often the town’s mayor or similar dignitary–to kick off the event, and their eyes widen with each band, float, car, or farm animal that passes.  Herewith, a few random observations from one who left childhood behind some fifty years ago.

            I have to confess,and I realize charges of curmudgeon may be leveled at me,that it rankles me that the parade,as mentioned,takes place more than a month before Christmas;in fact, it precedes Thanksgiving by four days. Ridiculous! I’m already annoyed by the fact that Thanksgiving–a lovely holiday–is nearly usurped by Christmas decorations, ads, and songs that begin to appear in late October. An early parade merely adds to my chagrin.  But enough about me….

            The parade itself is a fascinating mix of secular, sacred, and silly in varying degrees. Separation of church and state appears to be a moot point for the creative teams behind the floats, with more than one declaring, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and admonishing the good townspeople to “Put Christ Back in Christmas.” While I didn’t attempt even an informal survey of onlookers, I suspect very few would cop to a cavalier removal of Christ from the holiday, and most would turn up their noses at the ubiquitous substitution of the word “Xmas” during the season.  The one accession to political correctness was a homemade paper menorah perched atop a flatbed truck; I thought it rather a nice touch. More than one float managed to mesh both secular and sacred; I couldn’t help but grin at the sight of a plastic Santa peering down from his chimney perch into the innocent face of baby Jesus nestled in the manger on a float or two.  

              As in every parade since time began, there were majorettes of every size and shape.  While the day wasn’t bitterly cold, most of the girls had the foresight to cover arms and legs beneath their skimpy outfits.  As times change, so too do the parents chaperoning the dance units, Cub Scouts, and high school bands.  A number multitasked as they marched, keeping an eye on their young charges while chatting or texting friends on their cell phones.

            The animals proved fascinating again this year. A covered wagon full of folks dressed in pioneer garb and lustily singing folk songs was pulled by two of the largest  oxen I’d ever seen. A sign on the back indicated both livestock and wagon were available for wedding receptions and various other occasions.  I assume the singers would cost extra….In addition, all of the horses participating, a goodly number, were as festive as any of their human counterparts. They had either a Santa or elf hat perched over their ears, large bows on their tails, or–in the most extreme cases–both. Call me crazy, but I’m fairly sure these magnificent steeds were embarrassed by the sparkling duds.  If they were capable of blushing, I suspect they would have done so.

            While the parade’s motorized units ran the gamut from Shriner mini cars to antique fire engines, my favorite had to be the two clubs of local Corvette owners. I’m a little stymied, honestly, as to how our middle class town supports not one but two groups with members earning enough income to each own a Corvette.  Stranger still is the fact that they are evidently divided along racial lines. The first, composed primarily of Baby Boomer good old boys, blared familiar Christmas carols as they rolled slowly along.  The second, and to my way of thinking more fun group, was African Americans whose radios blasted hip hop, while owners implored the crowd to,  “Get up, get up, get up!” We happily complied; the street was alive, moving to the decidedly un-Christmasy beat!

            Overriding the floats, baton twirlers, Women’s Club marching packages, and barbershop quartets was the ever present threat of a passing train. You see, ours is a train town, and both passenger and freight trains make their way through daily at various times.  Normally no one thinks anything of it, merely stopping conversation if you happen to be near the tracks. Since the parade route, however, traverses the tracks, all units must grind to a sudden stop whenever a train appears. This in turn leads to impatient Camp Fire Girls restlessly kicking their legs off the back of their “Santa’s Workshop” float, and Miss Lucille’s Level 2 Dance Troop tapping in place for several minutes with annoyed looks on their faces.

            Eventually, of course, the parade resumes, the horse clean-up brigade springs back to life, and–at last–Santa appears atop the town’s hook and ladder, siren screaming. He smiles sweetly, tosses candy, and waves.  Rosy cheeked toddlers, prompted by moms, wave back with awestruck faces. And in that moment I think we’d all agree–young or old, participant or spectator, Cub Scout or Corvette owner– that in those uplifted faces lies “the reason for the season.” Be it ever so early, Merry Christmas, one and all!

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Why did the chicken cross the road?

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So, I’m driving home about 5:00 last Friday night, and have safely made it across our busiest road, the one that leads from our small town west into the wilds of the nearby rural county.  Because it’s Friday it’s particularly busy, with folks hurrying home to a good meal, a football game at the local high school, or simply to start a relaxed weekend.  I’m within a minute of home when I have to jam on the brakes to stop for not one,  but two waddling fowl.  In what I’m fairly sure must have been a daring escape from a nearby farm, a cheerful multi-colored duck and his traveling companion, a fairly complacent white chicken, leisurely stroll across my path without a care in the world.  One can’t help but ponder just why these fine feathered friends are out on this beautiful autumn evening.  Have they indeed escaped the confines of pens at Farmer Jones’?  And if so, just how far has their journey brought them tonight?  While there are still plenty of rural areas within ten or fifteen miles of our little town, that seems quite a long distance for these two to have traveled without being either maimed or killed.    Where exactly are they headed?  Are they simply strolling or deliberately  heading for the feed store about three blocks up the road?

If so, I totally get it.  I myself am a regular visitor to our local wine and cheese shop for the Friday wine tasting…who doesn’t want to get out at the end of a long week and sample the newest and best of the local cuisine?

I swear, I could not get these two out of my mind, so cheerfully making their way uptown, totally oblivious to the myriad dangers that lurked enroute.  Were they okay? I asked myself during the night.  Had some kind soul with an extra chicken coop in the yard felt sorry for them and taken them in?  Was their farm family worrying about them too and searching for them in the Friday night dark?  When I mentioned all of these concerns to my  daughter,  she showed scant sympathy for either the fowl or me.  “But Mom,” she logically pointed out, “Haven’t I seen you eat fried chicken more than once, and don’t you ALWAYS order duck when it’s on the menu in a restaurant?”  Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.  And yet…I’m still wondering a week later HOW duck and chicken are, WHERE duck and chicken are, and indeed IF duck and chicken are at all.  I choose to believe that they’ve found a happy place to settle themselves and their wandering days are thankfully at an end.  And if this seems both naive and optimistic, well, consider that I work with children, I read a fair number of stories aloud to them that anthropomorphize animals, and–let’s face it–I’m an eternal optimist.  I’m in your corner, wandering barnyard fowl, I’m in your corner….