Friday, November 22, 2013
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am often drawn to memories of my childhood in New England. The colder, dreary month of November on the coast of Massachusetts was memorable in its own way. The air smelled heavily of salt water, the dampness was chilling even for youngsters and the early darkness of each day drove us all home, to the welcome and warm smells of supper cooking. To be among familiar objects and family gathered around the dining room table, was to find a secure barrier against the wicked elements that could blow in off the mighty North Atlantic. It was an insulation against the unknown, a safe haven from the boogey man and a cheery cocoon for young minds with over active imaginations. It was Fall in Winthrop. We had raked leaves into huge piles, jumped into them a gazillion times and, yes, burned them in the gutters. I still miss the smell of burning leaves. We had made sure the storm windows were in place. This was no easy task as they had to be taken off and put on from the outside, on ladders. They were separate from the window frames and had spent the summer stored in the cellar awaiting the first cold blasts of approaching winter. It was time to get out the hats, mittens, scarves, boots, warm jackets and leggings. How I hated the leggings!! Nothing like today's warm, nearly water proof outdoor gear, these leggings would be wet soon after the first snow angel. We spent November getting ready for winter. Sometimes, winter hit with huge Nor'eastahs, dumping snow up to my chin, long before we were truly ready. But most of the time, November was just cold and gray. There was much to look forward to in November with lots of days off from school. We always had election day off, then Veteran's Day and then the two days for Thanksgiving. My older sisters were very into high school football. I went to many of the games too, with kids my own age. We spent weeks, before Thanksgiving, cutting up newspapers into strips and then into small squares, our very own home grown confetti. It was extra special when we could add the Sunday comics to the mix. All this was for the Thanksgiving football game, the last of the season, with a rival high school team. I didn't care a bit about the game. I was there to cheer with the cheerleaders, yell at the top of my lungs and throw confetti. It was glorious! The game was in the morning so by the time we got home, there was the heaven sent aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven. Our dinner was probably very traditional. I'm not sure I ever asked any of my friends what they had for their dinners. I guess I thought everyone had what we had. This was before the day of frozen turkeys so ours was fresh and needed to be dunked in a sink full of cold water to clean it all out. My father made the onion stuffing with stale bread. He always stuffed the turkey the night before and we never got sick once!!!! My mother and grandmother had made pies and fresh cranberry orange relish. I never did acquire a taste for this relish but still love canned cranberry sauce. My grandmother insisted on having mince meat pies, another item my taste buds never quite got used to. There was mashed potato, sweet potato, boiled onions, Hubbard squash, stuffing, turkey and gravy. It was a feast fit for royalty. Sometimes we had relatives join us, swelling our ranks to 10 or more at the table. Warm pies, including pumpkin, would be served with real whipped cream. After clean up, the dining room table would be turned into a giant card table as we all gathered around to play Up The River. Out came the cards and the betting chips; let the games begin. I don't remember if I ever won or lost. I just remember it being the most fun. The room was full of laughter and silliness. The only thing you could win was chips - no cash value. So we just played and laughed and enjoyed. Each Thanksgiving I am so grateful for these memories. As I relive them, I am once again with my parents, grandmother, sisters and other family. I'm visiting my beloved childhood home and touching a time that was saner, safer and happier than what we have today.