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Memories of Turkeys Past

By November 21, 2020December 9th, 20207 Comments

NOte: The couple pictured here in no way resembles my parents! My Dad would not have worn a suit to his table and my Mom would not be caught dead in an apron. Not to mention the hair style!

My mother had been up cooking for hours.  I could smell the turkey roasting as I slowly transformed from sleeping to a semi wakeful state.  Thanksgiving!  A Big Day in my childhood household.  Still today, in my mind, pretty much a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving.  A day that we Jews could fully participate in without an ounce or a quarter ounce of guilt. We did it up. Probably more whole heartedly than most.

Dad would be off early with his brother Charlie to see the annual Holyoke High School football game against Chicopee.  It would be all over by noon.

As I remember it now, the sun was always shining brightly in the chilly late November air.  There could be chance of snow, always slim, but possible. So much the better.  Songs always came to mind.  I could always get my mother to sing along with We Gather Together and I always liked Over the River and Through the Snow which had a nice New England touch.  Our house sat above the Connecticut River, so I could sing this with some conviction, just overlooking the fact that neither was there snow on the ground, nor did we ride around in horse drawn sleighs!old fashioned thanksgiving

My Mother was a pro when it came to hosting..  The menu was delicious, if predictable. The centerpiece of course was the free range turkey from one of Dad’s local farms.  The Butterball turkey era was having its day, but not at our house. You could also always count on  Pepperidge Farm stuffing, French green beans (from frozen package) topped with Liptons onion soup package.  This could have worked at any meal, but for reasons only my Mother knew, it was saved for Thanksgiving only.  The main course was completed with cranberry sauce out of a can and our past cleaning woman Ella’s sweet potatoes,topped with miniature marshmallows more candy than veggie, but that it made it all the delicious.

It was my job to set the table and mom always waited patiently for me to do it. The best linens covered the table, purchased years past in Portugal for just such an occasion.  I always had a few choice autumn leaves reserved for decoration and my brother’s first grade construction paper colored  turkey always made the centerpiece.  Small antique cups of nuts and candies, etc. would be strategically placed on tables around the house and a cooked shrimp wonder impaled on a plastic tree with cocktail sauce, was placed in the room we called the back den. Here shown with gum drops.

As is still the case, there were always some disputes as to when the turkey could be called “done!” One fine year, my Dad pulled out an electric carving knife to do the honors at the table.

This was the year’s latest gadget and all of the about to be eaters paid close attention. Dad made the most of it, but didn’t seem impressed with this newfangled invention.

My mother always collected a few useless aging batchelors to join our group.  Uncle Sam was not an uncle of ours, but a fixture at every gathering.  My father enjoyed needling him and he managed to tolerate Dad’s humor at his own expense.  He was no match for Dad’s sharp wit.  He didn’t even try.

Mudgie, the alcoholic butcher of the Elmwood Market might join us if he was sober. My mother’s sister Anne and family were regulars.  My uncle would always bring a precious bottle of Chateau Yquem wine he’d purchased by the case on a trip to France years earlier.  We weren’t a wine -with -dinner family, so I have no idea when or where it was consumed, but it was always presented as if it were the palace jewels.chateau yquem

Dinner was a jovial affair.  I cannot say I remember deserts which is unusual for me. I think the pies were probably from the Yankee Pedlar, an old fashioned New England restaurant in town, that had it’s own bakery. Their best pie as far as I was concerned, was their lemon chiffon.  My guess is that probably what was served.

These were the years before my daughter Susanna kept us supplied with her home baked pecan and apple pies.  They are always unforgettable. Family feuds have broken out over who gets to take the extras home.

Following dinner, the women automatically retired to the kitchen to tackle the mountain of dirty dishes; the men bundled up and went for a brief walk around the neighborhood to walk off some of the excess.

And so it was life long memories were made and now treasured.  This year’s gathering is constrained by covid. We all decided it was best that our NYC contingent not travel.  No added guests either.

My mind is busy at work planning a centerpiece.  We just were given two outdoor heat lamps which will make  separation of guests possible.    No previously frozen green beans, but I guarantee a generous slice of pecan and/or apple pie.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • Alan Kaplinsky says:

    As usual, Dianne’s memories of her childhood are much clearer than mine. However, I think my centerpiece turkey was made of tin foil, not construction paper. Unfortunately, I was a very finicky eater in those days. I think I ate only the turkey from the Elmwood Market.

    • devapnek says:

      I think you beat me on the memory front. It definitely was a tin foil turkey. A bit ragged looking, as I now more clearly remember, but still with power!

  • Steve Kappel says:

    Wonderful memories. I sometimes went to the football game with my Dad. I remember leaving at half time on one occasion and walking home because the late November weather was too cold to sit there.
    I remember also Mudgie and Sam. And the locally raised turkeys.
    An unusual Thanksgiving Day for us also. Our normal gathering of about 25, is now reduced to 9.
    Thanks for your memories.

  • Judie says:

    In my next life I am coming back as a member of your family😊🥰🥰Happy Thanksgiving

  • Sheri Overall says:

    This is a year of flexibility! We are having no family here, just another couple who don’t want to fly to see their family. And I’m doing something I thought I’d NEVER do: Gelson’s is doing the cooking!! Just some homemade pies and cranberry sauce and, fo course wine. We are grateful to be healthy and to have a loving family and good friends. A toast to next year!🥂

  • Elizabeth Goodman says:

    To you and yours — may this Thanksgiving be one never to be repeated, but still a harbinger of better ones to come. Abnd thanks for remembering Mudgie!!

    • devapnek says:

      Lest we forget… He was so loyal to Dad, but never in very good shape! Yes, an awful year. Stay well and HTG to you and yours!