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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Day Past

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By Erin Knightley
This year, my hubby and I will be avoiding the Thanksgiving traffic jams, and are opting to stay home for Turkey day.  We’re thrilled to avoid the nearly ten hour drive to our hometown, even if it does mean missing out on time with our loved ones. And it’s not like we won’t see them—the world is a better place through the magic of Skype and FaceTime :)
When I was young, however, staying home wasn’t an option.  Oh no, every year we would pack up the car and take the 800 mile trek up to see my mother’s family in the suburbs of Chicago.
This was in the days before minivans, personal game devices, and that miracle known as the DVD/TV combo. It was just me, my older siblings, and my parents jammed into a car like the poor schmucks we were, pretending to like travel Yatzie minus two die and lap-top card games of War and Go Fish.
The trip seemed utterly interminable, but eventually we would pull into my grandparents short driveway, not even coming to a full stop before the doors were thrown open and we exploded from the car like popped corn.
Once inside, the familiar sound of football was the soundtrack to our reunion as everyone hugged Nana and Papa, and us kids covertly scouted out the ever-present candy dishes. There, sugar coated gumdrops and forbidden mini candy bars languished, calling to us like the sirens they were.  To us, the consumers of whole wheat bread and all natural peanut butter, my grandparent’s house was the Mecca of all things deliciously bad for us.
Wildwood cream soda would soon appear, blue and red striped bendy straws poking from their open tops. Salami sandwiches were next, complete with Italian dressing and insanely delicious white bread.  Even as we ate these sinful treats, my sister and I would already be focused on the next morning—Thanksgiving!—when we’d wake up to a box of Dunkin Donuts, procured by our Papa and complete with the cream filled powdered donuts that were surely the most wonderful things on the planet.
With powdery lips, full bellies, and the waning sounds of the Macy’s parade in the background, we’d get ready to head to my uncle’s house, where even more family awaited. There, the aroma of turkey greeted us before we even opened the door, as did the whirl of a hand mixer and the din of laughter. Our cousins, seen once a year like clockwork, would greet us at the door, and the rest of the afternoon would be a game of dodging responsibilities, namely setting the table and carrying folding chairs from the basement.
The food would be plentiful, the conversation boisterous, and the passage of time inevitable.  This yearly ritual, repeated for at least a decade, would set the bar for Thanksgivings for the rest of my life.  It’s been years since I’ve made it back to Chicago, and even longer since I was a carefree kid, happy to enjoy the moments that would linger in my memories for the rest of my life, but I’ll never forget those trips of yesteryear.
This year, I may not repeat the traditions of my childhood, but I’ll certainly be thinking about them. As my husband and dear friend join me at my own dining room table, I’ll be happy to make more memories to look back on years from now. Although. . . just for fun, I may see if I can talk my husband into an early morning Dunkin Donuts run ;)

What are your favorite Thanksgiving memories? Do you have a certain food or dish that takes you back? And are you planning on braving the holiday traffic to visit others this year?


12 comments:

  1. Your trip sounds the perfect family mix of wonderful/crazy, Erin!

    I grew up with a big, boisterous family Thanksgiving too. I miss the hustle and bustle--and the shared load!

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    1. LOL - there is something wonderful in the chaos, isn't there? Kudos to my aunt for not going stark raving mad with all of us converging on her house each year ;)

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  2. The most traffic I plan to deal with is that which I must face to reach your house. LOL. I have traveled at Thanksgiving a few times, and I have vowed that I will never do it again. It's miserable, and it thoroughly takes away from what ought to be a delightful holiday.

    Hmmm...foods that take me back. Mom used to smoke our turkey, so that smell always reminds me of good times. All of our dishes had a family trademark. We didn't just have candied yams--we had cranberry candied yams. We didn't have cornbread stuffing, we had Mom's sage sausage bread stuffing. And of course, being from Texas, we had to have a little Tex-Mex flair, which came in the form of chile rellenos casserole. This is the one and only time of year I allow myself to indulge in this oh-so-bad but oh-so-good treat, so I always look forward to it.

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    1. I'm looking forward to seeing what exactly this chile rellenos casserole is! And I love that your family put its own stamp on everything :) I hope you'll find a few new things to love this year. Though no smoked turkey - its Alton Brown style all up in here!

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    2. If I'm the one cooking, we do it Alton Brown style, too...though I have varied the recipe for the brine based on what I have in the cupboards. :)

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  3. My local son and daughter will be here for Thanksgiving with their families. My other son is 12 hours away so he will be staying at home with his wife's family.

    One thing I always loved at Thanksgiving was pecan pie. I always make everyone's favorite pies which are pumpkin and apple. This year, I'm making a pecan pie for me. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm going to call it my Ghost from Thanksgivings past!

    Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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    1. How nice that you'll have at least some family in town! And pecan pie? Count me in!!

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  4. Erin ~ I have no idea what sort of traffic I'm in store for as I head to the mountains of NC early Thursday morning. I also have no idea what I'll be eating - if anything - Thanksgiving night. A lot is closed up there and I won't have a kitchen. I'll have to bring cheese and crackers with me, just in case that's all I'll get.

    Have a great Thanksgiving!

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    1. Well, that sounds...nice? lol - I can't imagine Thanksgiving without the feast! Good luck finding something - and whether you feast or not, happy Thanksgiving to you!

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  5. This will be the first Turkey Day that I don't have to cook or host. Kinda fun and freeing.

    The Dunkin Donuts Tradition sounds wonderful. Maybe my family needs to copy y'all, but with Krispy Kremes. ;)

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  6. I don't celebrate Thankgiving because I celebrate chinese new year and our fave dish is chinese food :)

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  7. Dunkin Donuts doesn't make that powdery chocolate frosting filled donut anymore...everytime I see one I still stop and run inside to see if maybe just maybe it might be there! I'm kind of glad it's not...makes those memories all the more special. Wonderful post...but you forgot to mention the jello molds! Heehee:)

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