We had just passed all the food and were getting our first tastes when my uncles sauntered into the room. “Are you still eating?” they teased as they stood over my aunts’ shoulders with their full bellies. I wondered how my aunts could just blush and try so meekly to defend themselves, when I had visions of throwing my fork at them. One of my aunts said, “Next time we’ll eat first and let you wait on us.” That brought laughs and guffaws from the men. Finally, they walked back into Aunt Anna’s living room. I felt relieved that now we could eat in peace. And eat we did. After we had seconds, we brought on the desserts. There was graham cracker pudding, hickory nut cake, and apple, cherry, blueberry, and pumpkin pies.
By the time we left the table, we could barely move. But the dishes had to be done one last time. The aunts and Mem decided the girls should do them. They proceeded to put the living room back together and to sit and visit for the first time that day. We knew protesting wasn’t going to help, so we all chipped in. There were eight or nine of us in three age groups. Some cousins or sisters fell between the groups, like Cousin Ella and sister Sarah. Ella sometimes spent time with Susie, Nancy, and me and other times she went with the older girls. Sarah had only boy cousins her age, so she had the choice of going with the younger girls or with us middle ones. But when the aunts said, “the girls,” they meant all of us.
Somehow we managed to do all the dishes and put them away in Momme’s overcrowded little kitchen. If we had been somewhere else, we would have used our practical joke of hiding the roasting pan and some of the more greasy dishes for the hostess to find later. But not at Momme’s. We knew she was generous to invite her eleven living children with their large families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Uncle Ervin and Sadie had the largest family with four sets of twins and fifteen children altogether. Mem and Datt had the smallest family of seven children. For Momme to host all of us was a lot of work, and we knew it. She did not need to find dirty dishes under her bed.
As the clock struck three, we were hanging up our dishtowels and getting ready to play games. I don’t remember what games the girls wanted to play, but the uncles wanted to play “Swat,” a circle game in which a person stood in the middle with a rolled up newspaper. Someone called out a name and the person in the middle tried to hit the named person before he or she called out someone else’s name. We knew that most of the men didn’t know their own strength. Even though the game was supposed to be fun, their swats hurt. The rolled up newspaper used as their weapon became tattered and torn. Yet they talked us into it again.
The game had gotten out of hand. I knew my lap under my dress was red by the time the first van drove into the driveway. When the vans arrived, the mad scramble for wraps began.
On the way home, I was sad that the day was over. I reminded myself that there was still Christmas to look forward to. That would be the day Momme’s sewing table in the living room would be full of homemade candies. I could just imagine the turtles, chocolate covered cherries, popcorn balls, maple fudge, coconut bars, thumb print cookies, and cracker jacks. Despite how full I was after the Thanksgiving meal, my mouth watered just thinking about it.