I didn't do it. I swear I didn't. But since I was such a rambunctious kid I was always a suspect. As best I remember, my brother and sisters, my younger cousin and I were sitting at the little card table eating our Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents' house and my brother and I were constantly kidding my cousin about something and he got mad and kicked the table.
I do remember, flop sweat pouring down my brow even now as I recall that moment, that the card table, napkins, plates of turkey and dressing, came crashing down. My mom, aunt and grandmother rushed into action and somehow salvaged the day. No, we didn't have to go without. And my parents, aunt and grandparents didn't believe in hitting or yelling and so all was righted and we were eating the big Turkey Day dinner again in a matter of a few minutes.
See, this was our family tradition. We piled in the old car and headed across town to my father's folks for dinner. My brother, being the artist in the family, made construction paper headdresses or pilgrim hats for us and so we were cute as a button as my aunt would say.
My grandfather was one of those great old Southern lawyers, rimless wafer-thin glasses (the kind I always wanted but couldn't wear because of my prescription), a watch chain in his vest. My grandmother was an English and Latin teacher but was retired by the time we came up. She had one of those floor lamps in the livingroom over her favorite chair and used to have this great fancy magnifying glass to read with. We would arrive and assemble in the living room after putting our coats on the hall bench. The living room was the kind that had the pocket doors on both ends. Big, huge, white doors. My mother had this great maid who could take a piece of cardboard and cook it in some way that you would sumo wrestle a bear for the right to eat it. But luckily she didn't cook cardboard, but cooked a Southern Thanksgiving dinner with things like boiled onions and a dressing so good I have never tasted anything like it since. She made those green peas and made little birds nests in the mash potatoes on your plate. And she had a scraper and made a homemade coconut cake by using a hammer to break open the coconut and scrape the coconut off. We would fidget and wonder when we were going to get to eat, the smells of heaven wafting from the kitchen into the dining room and then through the pocket doors into the livingroom. We were not allowed to go bug her and ask when dinner would be ready. It would be ready when my grandfather announced it and we got up and opened the pocket doors to the glory of the beautifully set dining room, our little card table off to the side of the big dining table. We would eat there three times a year for sure and then some random Sundays. But always on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Everything was a tradition. At Christmas the tree was perfect but we were allowed to bring and place one ornament on it. My grandmother took us aside one time and taught us how to eat with a knife and fork. How to cut the turkey and then lay the knife on the edge of the plate and then eat that portion you had just cut up. She had real cloth napkins and a glass of water even though she had tea (back then it was tea, not iced tea, not sweet tea, not unsweetened tea, but just tea).
I admit it and am not ashamed of it. My parents were not much into ceremonies, into formality. We ate as soon as the food was ready. We wore what we had on to dinner. We came in and lifted the lids while my mother was cooking. We licked the pots when my mother was making homemade chocolate candy.
So in my life, I love the formality. I like the fancy-smancy things. I like the snooty guy who grinds pepper into your pasta. I like swirling the wine and approving it. I like the concept of sitting in first-class in big leather seats with real cloth napkins even though I never do it. But in reality I am more like my parents than my grandparents. I guess every family develops traditions, especially around the holiday. Holidays are for kids and then we adults just live on the fumes of being kids. We sit around and laugh with others about things like the kids' table crashing down at Thanksgiving and we point fingers at each other and accuse different ones of kicking the legs out from under it and causing the crash.
But families can create traditions even if they don't have much money. You can set aside the time to make homemade decorations for the Christmas tree. You can bake cookies and formally decorate them. You can pop corn and sit and meticulously string it on thread. In my family we would always go to the movies on our birthdays. To this is day, even alone I go to the movies and then eat coconut cake because my mother's maid would cook us a birthday cake and send it over, homemade chocolate for my brother, homemade coconut for me.
Holidays are mostly about being with family or friends and just celebrating life even though you never say that. It is a time to slow down life and just savor things. My brother and sisters and I years ago talked about how silly it was that we were running ragged trying to shop for Christmas and so we just stopped giving presents, opting to shop only for the kids in the family. And this took a lot of the stress away. We then decided that we could order ham and turkey and other items and pick it up from a local restaurant on that day and this took the stress of cooking out of the holiday. Now unlike so many we have stress-free holidays.
So it is a little early, but Happy Thanksgiving. If you are going to have Wild Turkey with your tame turkey, then make sure to put up those car keys and just plop down on the couch after eating too much.
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .