Local History: Thanksgiving memories

Well here we are again, Thanksgiving my favorite holiday.

When I was growing up, there were five of us kids and Ma and Dad. Our dining room table could easily seat six people, but at Thanksgiving there were always guests increasing that number to a dozen or more.

Our dining room table was an antique square oak extension table that took five leaves to extend its length. Twelve or more people could now sit around the table.

1908 Tuck's Thanksgiving postcard. Photo provided
1908 Tuck’s Thanksgiving postcard. Photo provided

Then, as today, deer season and Thanksgiving weekend coincide. Ma was on budget to run our household. How she could pinch a penny?

Dad, Brian, and I deer hunted. I don’t remember a year when one of us didn’t get a deer. This was important to Ma. She could stretch a dollar further with a little venison. One year all three of us got our deer.

We had a vegetable garden but didn’t grow potatoes. There was a place south of Bellows Falls on Route 5 that sold potatoes in 50-pound sacks. I remember going with my parents to buy a hundred pounds of potatoes that we stored in our root cellar. I think they cost $2.99 for 50 pounds.

Some years one of us got our deer before Thanksgiving. When this happened, a venison roast was always on our Thanksgiving table with venison gravy. Not all gravy is created equal.

The banquet

Ma would roast a huge turkey with stuffing. She always bought day-old bread to make stuffing. The turkey, venison roast, with mountains of mashed potato, winter squash, turnip, white pearl onions in a cream sauce, fresh bread, johnnycake, cranberry sauce, and gravy completed the fare.

Deer hunting

We hunted mostly on weekends, although I would rush home from school, grab my rifle, and head out for an hour before dark. Cassista’s orchard was a favorite place to hunt.

On weekends, Dad, Brian, and I hunted in Mount Holly or Shrewsbury. Ma would always ask if we got one when we returned home. Remember, she depended on venison to supplement her budget. She ran the house.

“No. Saw several deer but no horns.”

That’s when she would say, “The only thing the horns are good for is stirring the gravy.”

In other words, shoot a doe, which Dad was opposed to although it probably happened.

In the 1960s, we always had friends of my grandfather Donald stay with us for the weekend. They were Arnie Payne and his wife. I forget her name now, but Marion comes to mind.

They lived in Connecticut. They had a son – I think his name was Edward. Edward would park his camper on our lawn near the apple tree and camp for the weekend.

Edward had a .30 caliber M1 carbine with a banana clip. If I remember correctly, it held 10 rounds. Dad referred to it as a peashooter. It wasn’t a hi-power rifle.

Edward was different. Brian always called him Deadwood.

The women

Ma, my sisters Cheryl and Norma, and Mrs. Payne prepared supper, baking pies and bread. It was a tremendous amount of work for them. Ma took a nip now and then. By suppertime, she was getting right.

When supper was ready, everyone dug in. Conversation was about deer hunting and how we’d get him tomorrow. Each morning, Brian would say, “This is it.”

The women talked about their preparations for the day, recipes, or how Aunt Ida was doing.

This Thanksgiving

This year, it’s just me and Henry for Thanksgiving. I have a dead chicken in the freezer begging to be warmed up. I’ll make stuffing as Ma did. Stale bread, onion, a raw egg, and lots of Bell’s seasoning. I always chop the liver and gizzard, sauté it, and add it to the stuffing. Mix with a little water or chicken stock and stuff Dumb Cluck.

We’ll have winter squash, mashed potato, chicken, gravy, and stuffing. I make excellent gravy. Henry likes to pour gravy on everything. How he can devour stuffing with gravy! He has no couth at all.

Some people add apple, nuts, or raisins to their stuffing. Danny Clemons told me his father Bill added chopped oysters to his stuffing. It’s all good, but I prefer traditional stuffing.

For dessert I’ll make Henry’s favorite: chocolate pie in a graham cracker crust with real whipped cream, not the stuff that comes in the pressurized can. Ma always called that stuff “Soap suds.”


  This week’s old saying: “Those above you won’t hurt you. Those below you can’t.”

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