For some strange reason, the year my younger brother Tim made his First Holy Communion in 1970, our parish thought it would be a great idea for that to occur on Thanksgiving Day instead of the customary springtime like I had two years prior. Aside from making it difficult to find Communion attire, greeting cards and decorations at that time of the year, it posed a great quandary for my parents: Do we hold a Communion party and skip the traditional Thanksgiving dinner or host a crowd for turkey and all the fixings?
Of course, a hue and cry rose from those attached to a turkey dinner when my mom tossed out the idea to toss the turkey that year. So, my mom, to appease the family, opted for a sit-down, turkey dinner for 28 people. At that time, my dad had not yet put in our game room, and we had a small kitchen, and a dining room that only accommodated our family of six comfortably, and a living room.
To help my mother, both of my grandmothers offered to cook a turkey.
On the big day, my family set up folding tables and card tables everywhere and both sides of my family came for the happy occasion. My paternal and maternal grandparents were very different in temperament. My widowed Grandma Aggie Lane went to Mass most every day and never swore except for one time when my youngest brother, David, squirted her in the butt with a hose, and she exclaimed, “Damn you, David.” It was shocking and still lives in family lore.
My maternal Grandma, Gert Hughes, and her mother, my Great-Grandmother Cornelia Ledergerber, swore like crazy (not F bombs, but vulgarities.) Grandma Gert smoked, read novels, and loved soap operas. She believed in God but was not nearly as devout at Grandma Aggie.
If you want to create tension, throw four cooks into a tiny kitchen to prepare a massive Thanksgiving dinner. The Hughes side of the family made their stuffing with an egg in it, and the Lane side of the family liked their stuffing dry. One side liked the jellied canned cranberries and the others liked whole cranberries. My Grandma Leder was old school and wanted to sew her turkey shut with twine after stuffing it, while Grandma Aggie thought the new metal wires that closed the cavity and came on the turkey was a great innovation much to the disgust of Grandma Leder.
Each of these women had their own method for making gravy, and as they stood in the kitchen with their turkey drippings in cups trying to concoct their “best” gravy, my Uncle Bill on his way to get a drink, called out, “I’m next in line to make gravy!”
To which my Grandma Leder replied, “Oh, Billy you’re full of sh*t.”
I neglected to share that among the guests that day was my dad’s Aunt Gert, Grandma Aggie’s older sister, who was officially known as Sr. Euphemia, a Mercy nun.
When Grandma swore, my mom shushed her, “Grandma, the nun.”
And Grandma replied, “Ah, the hell with the nun.”
When dinner was ready, we all sat down for a memorable Thanksgiving dinner. Although my grandparents’ personalities were very different, they always respected one another and, in fact, liked and got along well, even under stressful circumstances like competing to make the best gravy.
And why? Because they shared something. They loved us.
There’s a home movie of that Communion Party/Thanksgiving Dinner, and on it are all my grandmas, clad in their aprons, crammed in the kitchen. In the next segment, Grandma Leder is standing with several of her great-grandchildren, including my brother, Tim, the Communion boy, and she’s hugging us and giving Tim a kiss.
It doesn’t matter who makes the best gravy, how you stuff your turkey, or if you’re stuck sitting on a telephone book at a card table. What matters is if there is love around your table, and this Thanksgiving, I hope you have an abundance of it.