Turkey Day evokes eclectic memories

Elaine Luddy Klonicki, Columnist

It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving is many people’s favorite holiday. There are very few preparations required—unless you’re the cook, of course. All we’re called to do is eat and be grateful. With the spectacular display of color in the leaves this year, and the anticipation of pumpkin pie, it’s not such a hard task.

I’m the youngest of eight kids, so Thanksgiving at our house was always a Waltons-like event. With that many people, day-to-day cooking was largely a functional activity. Spices were rare and I didn’t know what the word “gourmet” meant until college. But at Thanksgiving, my mother went all out with a 26-pound turkey and all the fixings.

My best memories growing up are of all of us sitting at the table eating and talking all at once. Afterwards we would gather ‘round the piano and sing.

My father, brother and sister took turns playing. My oldest brother, Bill, even played “Poor Little Butterfly” on the piano with his nose! Dave strummed the guitar and Steve accompanied them on the clarinet. 

We often had family friends stop by—they were the ones who came so often that we forgot that they weren’t actually related. It’s funny how the more people you have in a household, the more likely you are to invite others in.

We always figured, “What’s one more?”

My father made a good living as an engineer, but he had a lot of mouths to feed. My mother worked hard at making the money stretch until the end of the month. She often had just enough food to go around when, by dinnertime, a few family friends would have joined us. That’s when we had to go to the FHB (Family Hold Back) plan.

Each of us would take a small portion of food, then hold back until we were sure that guests had their fill before digging in again. When we had one-dish meals that were served from the kitchen one plate at a time, it was a little more complicated. On one occasion my sister Jeanie, who turned out to be the gourmet of our family, was serving her specialty, curried chicken.

When we told her that we needed three more plates, she nearly cried. The pot was empty.

In that case FHB meant “bring all the plates back” so that she could scoop some off each one in order to create three more meals. I think it traumatized Jeanie for life, but we all benefited in the end. You should see the spreads she puts out for us now.

These days, my siblings are scattered all over the East coast. Each of us is as different as can be, but the older we get, the more we enjoy each other’s company. Only a few of us who live close by share the Thanksgiving meal anymore. But we all joined together last month for a weekend to celebrate my mother’s 87th birthday.
We gathered at my brother Bob’s vacation home in the foothills in Wilkes county. The farmhouse on the property has the same floor plan as the five bedroom-home we grew up in outside of Philly. We cooked most of our meals there, but on Saturday night we treated ourselves and Mother to a birthday dinner at the Dan’l Boone Inn in Boone.

We were seated together at a long table just like the old days, and the meal was absolutely delicious. The food was family-style: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garden-fresh green beans and corn, ham biscuits, and strawberry shortcake for dessert. But the best part was realizing that it was “All you can eat.”

Family, dig in!

This column first appeared in The News and Observer, November 25, 2005

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