Thanksgiving with Mem’s Family – Part II


As usual, on this Thanksgiving Day, Momme’s living room was as spotless as her kitchen. A clock ticked pleasantly on the shelf above the bureau. The three hickory-bent rocking chairs sat on the hand woven rugs on the hardwood floors. There was a white sewing rooster sitting on her treadle-run sewing machine by the window. He held spools of thread, a needle cushion, and buttons. The red comb on the top of his head made him look proud. 


Dodde’s rocking chair was the one next to the “spit box.” He chewed tobacco and for him to be able to do that in the house, Momme had to keep the wooden box filled with clean sawdust. 

The house smelled of roast turkey and potatoes and squash. We went through the living room to Momme’s bedroom to put away our “wraps,” which is what we called our coats, shawls, and bonnets.

My younger girl cousins were playing with their dolls. I had cousins who were babies, some who were grown, and every age in between. Everyone wore their Sunday best. I was wearing my white kopp, clean, freshly starched, and pleated, that I wore only for special occasions, and it felt crisp and clean, like the bright day with the sun streaming through Momme’s sparkling windows. 

Momme, Aunt Ada, and Aunt Saloma were peeling potatoes. Mem handed me her wraps and rolled up her sleeves to help. 

I put Mem’s wraps in Momme’s dark bedroom, right around the corner from the kitchen. The bedroom didn’t have a window, so it was dark with only the light coming through the doorway from the living room. On the other side of the bed was another doorway that led into Aunt Ada’s hallway. 

I took off my wraps and put them on Momme’s bed. I folded my shawl in a special way with the fringes out, so I could tell which one was mine when it was time to go home. I put it with my coat, scarf, and bonnet. 

My cousins Nancy and Susie came in and we headed off to Aunt Ada’s side of the house before our mothers could pull us into the kitchen to do dishes. I knew they would find us soon enough. 

Halfway through the forenoon, we came within wafting distance of the smells drifting out of the kitchen. They made my stomach growl. My Aunt Sarah saw us and said, “You girls get over here and do these dishes and set the table!” The furniture in the living room had been moved over to Aunt Ada’s side of the house to make room for two tables. The tablecloth was on, and we set the table, squeezing in as many places as we could. I don’t remember if we talked about the fact that the men would get to eat first, but I certainly thought about it. Sometimes my cousins and I did discuss the unfairness of the men eating first, even though the women did the cooking and the dishes. I heard Uncle John talking in the other room and then loud laughter. I smelled the men’s pipe smoke and wished I could smell the food by itself.

The table was ready, and we filled the water glasses. Then we brought in steaming plates of food. There were hills of mashed potatoes with melted brown butter running down the sides, Momme’s rich gravy, big platters of roast turkey, dressing, squash, peas, home-canned corn relish, sweet pickles, applesauce, and fresh slices of Mem’s white bread with elderberry jelly. With our mouths watering, we watched the men and boys come in and take their seats. We womenfolk stood in a circle around the table while everyone bowed their heads in silent prayer. Then we filled their water glasses and brought more food as they emptied the plates. 

We watched the men pat their over-filled stomachs, stretch, and leave the table to go back to Aunt Ada’s living room before we cleared the table, did the dishes, and set the table again. Finally, we brought on the remaining food and sat down to eat.

To be continued…
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10 thoughts on “Thanksgiving with Mem’s Family – Part II”

  1. Hello there! I’m enjoying reading your memories. I was not raised Amish but this post reminded me of Christmas mornings as a child that found us at an old farm house visiting my step-dad’s Grandfather for breakfast. The men “always” ate first. The children next the women washing the dishes in between in metal pans with water heated from the stove. The water drawn from a deep well in the back yard. I always prayed I could hold out to use the bathroom at home as I hated outhouses with a passion! I do remember a big cut glass bowl of sparkling fruit salad {ambrosia} and a tall coconut cake on a cut glass pedestal.

    Hope you don’t mind my sharing!

  2. We did that in our family gatherings. The men always got to eat first, then the women. Sometimes the children got to eat when the men did but not at the dining room table we’d have to eat either in the kitchen at the table there or on TV trays in the living room…depending whose house we were visiting. One aunt and uncle didn’t have a kitchen table only dining room.

  3. Welcome Tammy! I don’t mind a bit… quite the contrary… I loved what you shared. I am with you about outhouses… I also hate them with a passion! Nowadays, the Amish in my home community have bathrooms, but we still didn’t when I was growing up.

    Love the images of the fruit salad and the coconut cake on a glass pedestal… two of my favorite foods!

    Thank you for sharing some of your Thanksgiving memories.

  4. Averett, that is very interesting. I thought that this was a tradition pretty much practiced by the Amish and other plain groups.

    Yes, we often “fixed plates” for the little children, who ate at the same time as the men, at little side tables or even on the floor.

    I love hearing about other people’s traditions! Thank you for sharing yours.

  5. Hi Saloma, I’m someone who counts fairness high amongst my “core values” – horrible management-speak, but I think it is apt – so it always distresses me when societies give some human beings automatic and unearned privilege over others. Without that aspect, this would sound idyllic! My stomach is grumbling just from your description.

    Thanksgiving is not a UK holiday, but like Tammy this reminds me also of family Christmases as a child. Not in the details, but in the intensity and specialness of the memories. Our house had distinctive sounds and smells, or if we were dining at my grandparents’ house, that had its own set of sensory stimuli. And then my father’s side of the family always gathered at one of the aunt’s or uncle’s houses for a big party in the evening, food, talk, games…I don’t recall fruit salad, but there was always trifle!

  6. Botanist, thank you for your comments. Just remembering the food and it’s smells makes my stomach grumble, too.

    Your family’s get-togethers sound like they were a lot of fun.

    What is trifle? (I could look it up, but I bet you will give me a much better description).

  7. Trifle is a dessert consisting of a layer of sponge cake in the bottom of the bowl, then fruit set in jelly (jello), and topped off with a layer of custard, usually with whipped cream on top.

    In a traditional sherry trifle, the sponge is soaked in sherry first, but regardless the jelly mixture is poured over the fruit and sponge so it soaks in and makes it moist, and then sets around the pieces of fruit.

    I suspect this is a peculiarly English traditional dish. I reckon every family I knew used to have their own particular recipe.

  8. Greetings, Saloma! Your blog is a blessing to me. I so enjoy reading your posts. I live about 45 min. from Amish Country here in Ohio. It is a beautiful place unlike any other. Rolling hills & everything neat & tidy.

    We love the people there & have made friends with a few. One dear lady that I see at times when we visit Holmes County always get into trouble for talking with the English too much. She doesnt seem to care & I can tell she is very unhappy & not sure about all of the rules.

    I have told her about the cross & that it is not by works or anything that we do, but that He died for all who believe ect…..

    She listens. She is in bondage. A lovely lady that I so enjoy spending time with. I think I shall write her a letter.

    Another family we know actually home educate! Unheard of! They stay are Christians, but stay within their community because they love the tradition of it all. I also believe their is a fear factor, not sure.

    All this to say, I love the Amish & I have respect for what they do. I dont agree with how things are run in their gathering or church gatherings.

    The Amish here near us are a delight. I have taught my daughters to respect them while we are on their territory. Unlike many tourists who take photographs & such. Its their place & we are visiting & shopping.

    I had to stop in & share those things, because I know you know what I am talking about.

    Your blog greatly blesses my soul ~

    Rejoicing In Him, Patrizia

  9. Ha ha I can relate to the outhouse thing too. My grandparents did not get indoor bathrooms until i was in my teens (and I’m only 46!) If I was at a gathering where the men ate first then left the clean up for the women and children, I would be in trouble because I just would not be able to stop myself from saying something.

  10. Botanist, thank you very much for the information… sounds delicious! When are you inviting me over for a dish of it?

    Patrizia, thank you for your compliments about my blog and for sharing your thoughts about your experiences with the Amish you know. My advice is, go slowly. The inner conflict that we all go through when we are trying to work through whether to leave or stay is pretty intense, and when there are pressures from both sides, it only intensifies the conflict. Some of us have to come to the decision of leaving very slowly. And other people consider it, then stay. Either way, people have to do what is right for them… they are ultimately the only ones who can make the choice.

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