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…