Room at the table

By John Marlowe

I’ve been contemplating Thanksgivings past, and I keep wondering where we put everyone. It wasn’t uncommon for us to go over the river and through the woods to various family houses for Christmas, but I only recall a few Thanksgivings that we didn’t spend at home.

Our house just wasn’t that big.

Nevertheless, aside from one Thanksgiving at my Uncle Stewty and Aunt Carol’s house in Traverse City, one with my maternal grandparents in Mobile and one in Chicago with my Aunt Sharon and Cousin Jim, I believe we played host to all the rest.

My favorite Thanksgiving was the year I graduated from the “kids’ table” in the living room, to fill the empty slot at the grown-ups’ table. The move was made possible by the departure of my 101-year-old great-grandmother in August. I hated to see Mamaw go, but this was an opportunity.

My Dad had just remodeled our attached garage, turning it into a giant, posh dining room, adjacent to the kitchen. I got the biggest kick out of thinking where Cousin Pam sat was directly above the concrete floor where my best friend Jackie and I had just skinned a muskrat three weeks prior. I liked Cousin Pam, but her hair actually resembled the muskrat, especially the brown and black tail of dangling hair at mid-back.

The new dining room was cavernous by standards of the day. What once housed a lawn mower, four bicycles, and a 1961 Chevrolet Impala station wagon, could now accommodate our massive dining room table with three leaf inserts.

The parqueted table could seat a tight 20, if you didn’t mind an occasional jab from Cousin Mary Margaret’s sharpened elbows. The table not only made you feel like you were sitting at a football field, I’m convinced that it was slightly crowned in the center to allow spills to run off.

Fortunately, my Mother had plenty of table service. By virtue of my Grandad making several excursions into France while stationed in Germany after the War, she had a china cabinet filled with Haviland Limoge in the purple violet pattern. And although, there were other occasions throughout the year the Limoge was trotted out for use, Thanksgiving was the only time my brother and I were allowed to touch them.

I became aware at that Thanksgiving of just how difficult adult life will be. The gravy boat was stationed in front of me, and I learned that you should always use the ladle, even though there is a perfectly good spout on the end. If a foot plate is attached to the bottom, you have to be careful not to get it into the sweet potatoes, and you never, ever use the ladle to create a mashed potato “well” to hold the gravy.

I had a better understanding of our home owner’s insurance policy.

Uncle Stewty, who is famous for once eating an entire Angel’s Food cake at one sitting, was asked to say grace. We all bowed our heads, and the career Presbyterian minister donned a solemn countenance, and said, “Bless this food, and us who eats it. Ah-man!”

That’s either from Deuteronomy or Ma and Pa Kettle.

The turkey was trotted out to a chorus of Oo’s and Ah’s, and Uncle Gary dismissing them all with, “Wait! Wait! I’ve got to get a picture of this!” Gary whipped out his Instamatic camera, and with its flash serving as a starter’s pistol, we all dove in.

Uncle Gary never took any pictures of his four children, but he had snapshots of every Thanksgiving turkey dating back two decades. He could identify them, too. “This is 1965. Remember? That’s the year the rolls were over-baked.”

Mother was the last to leave the kitchen and join us. She sat next to me, and aired an audible sigh of relief as she sat down. I had watched her in the kitchen all morning. Like an orchestra conductor, she moved and pointed, and articulated to the other ladies in the kitchen where to put stuff, and to direct them to a drawer for a serving spoon.

My Mother had worried all morning that the meal wouldn’t turn out right, but of course, it did. It was perfect. I thought she was, too. I couldn’t imagine a Thanksgiving without her.

Now, they are without her. Nearly every seat around that Thanksgiving table became empty through the years. Others have graduated, and the seats remain warm.

I’m still surprised that our house could host all these people. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my heart has room for them all.

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.