I’m southern and southern means large family dinners especially for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Growing up we were either hosting the meal in North Carolina for my father’s side of the family or driving to Charleston to attend the family fete on my mother’s side of the family.
Regardless of the local, the table was expanded to maximum capacity with all available leaves inserted. Silver was polished, the good linens ironed to perfection, and the good china and crystal placed on the table in anticipation of the meal. My grandmother would create a fresh arrangement of flowers and greens for the centerpiece. Mr. Carson (the butler from Downton Abby) had nothing on my maternal grandmother who did not need a straight stick to spy an errant piece of silver not exactly lined up with the edge of the plate or a napkin incorrectly folded.
It was all work in anticipation of the big reveal when the turkey came out of the oven. It was also much more. It was family togetherness, working together, gathering in the kitchen to chop, dice, slice and catch up with everyone and what is going on in their lives. I also give an honorable mention to all the dishes that were hand washed before and after dinner.
The Thanksgiving menu for such a large group was long and varied. Turkey, ham, oysters, jello salad, cranberry sauce, squash casserole, rice and gravy (Charleston was once a great rice producer and the tradition lingers on), dressing, green beans, homemade icebox rolls, and then dessert. Somehow, I never remember dessert. I think I was always so full of my other favorites that dessert never made much of an impression. Coconut cake and apple pie I’m certain graced the table but the main event was the turkey and the sugar cured ham. Served promptly at 2pm, we began with grace and then promptly moved to devour everything lovingly prepared.
Over the years the family has shrunk and so has the menu. I am now the host rather than my mom and I eagerly anticipate the arrival of family from out-of-town and the chance to visit and catch up over the chopping, slicing and dicing. The table is a reminder of my heritage; set with silver from my grandmothers, china from my mother and my own crystal. On Thursday my family will once again say grace and give thanks and remember fondly those who are no longer around the table.
In anticipation of turkey day, I grocery shopped this weekend. My menu is turkey, squash, green beans, cranberry sauce, dressing, squash, and rice and gravy will be on the table. Dessert is an apple tart. My to do list is long but I will be smiling and remembering those Thanksgivings past as I prepare our dinner.