Thanksgiving memories span nearly a century

Columnist discusses Thanksgiving memories at Elma Senior Center.

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest,” said English poet William Blake. America’s annual Thanksgiving holiday attests to that.

The hearts of thankful receivers treasure the good that’s come their way. Moreover, the harvest of the heart keeps producing, often years, even decades, after the blessings first planted the gratitude.

Recently, I asked some folks at the Elma Senior Center to share some Thanksgiving memories. Their recollections were, in the main, unpretentious — which didn’t detract a bit from their value. All were homey; most were similar. And all were uniquely flavored by those who’d experienced them.

From her grade-school days through about ninth grade, recalled Terexa Martinez, 54, her father’s side of the family celebrated Thanksgiving at her aunt’s home in Olympia.

The grown-ups ate turkey and the trimmings in the house, while the kids were relegated to the garage because “the adults didn’t want to hear us or watch us eat,” Martinez said. That was just fine with the youngsters: “We didn’t want to sit with the adults,” she explained. “We were happy to eat in the garage.” Besides chowing down their own turkey meal, including homemade pumpkin and apple pies, they played board and made-up games, and as well as with race cars.

“It was pretty cool,” Martinez said. “I miss it.” This year, food-bearing relatives will gather at her nephew’s house.

Dressing or stuffing

Besides turkey prepared in various ways, the dressing (or “stuffing”), at times a contentious subject depending on what kind individual families swear by, can challenge the bird for attention. In one Milton, West Virginia, family, though, “my grandma made four kinds: oyster, cornbread, regular (bread crumbs, onions, celery, sage and giblets) and chestnut,” said Sharon VanFossen, 69.

This year, VanFossen plans to cook a small turkey and some dressing —“gotta have dressing” — and her grandmother’s cranberry salad.

She also will watch football with her husband, Butch, who’s a Seahawks fan. But, she noted, “I just like football. I’ll watch anybody.”

When Shirley Lathrop, 75, was a young child in Ashland, Oregon, “Mom always put the turkey on around 5 a.m. (with Lathrop’s dad looking on),” she said. “And all us kids,” including her twin, Sharon, and two other siblings, “woke up and watched.” Her mother’s cornbread dressing included celery, onions, herbs, spices and turkey giblets.

Around 10:30 a.m., three aunts and about 14 cousins arrived and stayed all day, Lathrop said. The kids played outside games (tag, hopscotch and jump rope) and climbed trees.

At dinner time, “Mom made us all dress up,” she said, adding, “each one of us had to say what we were thankful for. Then we said grace.”

Dessert included apple, peach, cherry and pumpkin pies, “and a lot of cakes,” said Lathrop, whose relatives plan to gather at her home this year.

Decades ago

The recollection of 94-year-old Chuck Wilkowski reached back some 85 years to his home in Rainier, where his parents were raising eight children.

“Needless to say, our table was always full,” he said. They raised rabbits and chickens, he noted. In that Depression era, “if you didn’t raise it, you didn’t eat it. That was about 85 years ago.”

His father decided to raise a turkey for “something different,” Wilkowski said.

About 28-30 pounds by Thanksgiving, the bird had “got big enough that he had trouble handling it,” Wilkowski noted, “so he took it to a chopping block.” His dad “took a swing at the neck” but didn’t quite complete the job, Wilkowski added, describing how the bird “started jumping higher than the apple trees in the backyard.”

“Eventually the turkey did die, and we did have turkey dinner — finally,” said Wilkowski, whose first taste of turkey had been roasted in the oven of the family wood stove.

Pat Starks, her husband, Clarence, and their three sons had Thanksgiving dinners on their dairy farm on the South Bank Road near Elma.

“We didn’t raise a turkey, … we just bought one,” recalled Starks, 81. Theirs was a “normal” Thanksgiving dinner, she said. Dressing was made with Mrs. Cubbison’s mix, Starks noted. “You added onions, celery and broth,” and at their house, additional sage and thyme to what the mix included.

Dessert was pumpkin and mincemeat pies, using None Such mincemeat. “I have four quarts of it,” she said.For several years, she also “had to make a mincemeat pie” for a shopper disappointed when finding none at a holiday bazaar.

“What, no mince pie?” asked the incredulous person.

“Are you coming tomorrow?” Starks queried. Answering in the affirmative, the customer was told, “I’ll have your pie.”

Both Wilkowski and Starks plan to show up Thursday, Nov. 15, for the senior center’s Thanksgiving dinner. Though the printed menu didn’t mention dressing, the cook, Jeannie Schindler, quickly assured everyone: “There’ll be dressing.”