I’ve always loved Normal Rockwell’s painting of the family Thanksgiving meal, because it’s so much like and yet so much unlike my family’s Thanksgivings in Waco.
The whole clan always dutifully assembled at the house on Parrott Ave., and later at their home on Gorman Ave., where Grandma, Uncle Jack, Aunt Sarah and cousins Alan and Ron lived. Our little house on Sleeper Ave. was too small. The traditional turkey dinner, with the usual trimmings, was served at the big dining room table, with Uncle Jack or my Dad presiding. The crowd usually included friends of the family and their kids, as well.
From all outward appearances, we could have slipped right into the Rockwell painting. In the kitchen, though, a mighty struggle took place every year. Mom and Aunt Sarah never really got along, especially when it came to preparing a meal. Each thought she was the better cook, and there was always a grim silent tussle over whose recipe was used for which dish. Grandma was a whiz at baking cakes and cookies, but her cooking left meats dried out and tasteless, side dishes gooey and unappealing. The three women managed to work out some kind of complicated diplomatic truce by which a decent meal was created, but by the time we all sat down to eat, you could have cut the tension between them with the carving knife.
My sister and I usually didn’t know the invited guests, or if we did, their kids were often ones we didn’t much like. We would have preferred a meal with just the family. Then we could have eaten quickly and gone out to play instead of having to stay, squirming in our chairs, pretending to enjoy the company. Alan and Ron, who were older, were allowed to escape, while Linda and I sat miserably trapped at the table.
I’d like to see that painting.
Still, time has a way of mellowing those memories. The turkey was almost always moist, the gravy tasty, the stuffing and cranberry sauce delicious, and Grandma’s desserts heavenly. When you’re a kid, it never occurs to you that those moments are fleeting, that people don’t live forever. Children grow up, move away, have our own families, our parents and grandparents age and decline. My sister, Alan and I are the only ones left from those long-ago family gatherings.
I’d give everything I have to see Aunt Sarah, Mom and Grandma fussing in the kitchen again, to be seated at that table with Jack and Dad at the head, and to taste Grandma’s incomparable cookies one more time.
I’m taking this week off, so there will be no new Sleeper Ave. story tomorrow. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.