Yesterday's Magazette

5 – Thanksgiving 1949

Recalling Thanksgiving 1949

By Colette Sasina

Snow sprinkles gently over Detroit, a winsome white welcome for Santa’s arrival at the Thanksgiving Day parade tomorrow. My grandmother, Busha, will visit us for two days; her first and only overnight with us–ever. She will stay in my room and sleep in the bed my papa built just for me. I am so excited. I’d rather spend time with Busha than drive downtown to see the parade with my friend Nancy, who lives across the street, and her mom.

Busha arrives mid-afternoon with a song in her heart, greeting us with gardenia scented hugs and rosy lipstick kisses. She favors her left leg, always wrapped in an Ace bandage below the knee. “Happy Thanksgiving, Margie,” she sings, gathering her daughter into her arms.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Busha,” Mama returns, then pours a cup of steaming coffee to warm her mother. They waste no time chatting away, rolling dough, making pies, grating cabbage for slaw, toasting bread, and browning vegetables for stuffing. Even though I am eight, I sense a sacred bond woven into their non-stop Polish-English banter.

I cover the table with Mama’s hand-embroidered tablecloth and set out napkins and silverware. My favorite ritual comes next; retrieve Max, the brown ceramic moose pitcher, from the top shelf of the pantry and give him a soapy wash, quick rinse and dry. Max will share center stage with the woven grapevine cornucopia I fill to overflowing with small laquered gourds, leaves, and dried mums. Max, with his cute curly antlers, inspires funny comments at our holiday dinners.

At bedtime, I climb the stairs to bunk with my brother, Basil. I pause on the landing and feel a wintry draft wafting around Papa’s hand-crafted storm windows. Sparkly frost splatters the panes with lacy snowflakes, lending a fairytale appearance to the brick bungalows lining Yolanda Street below.  Smoke billows from furnaces, spiraling to the star-sequined sky. I press my forehead against the cold window and thank Jack Frost for creating his lens to enchantment.

Early Thanksgiving morning, Mama stuffs and brushes the turkey with melted butter. Papa lifts the heavy bird into the roasting pan and slides it into the oven. A dusting of snow overnight records our footprints as we walk two blocks to church for the 8:00 a.m. Mass. “Good Morning.  Happy Thanksgiving,” Mama offers to a neighbor who smiles and pulls open the massive wood door.

“Happy Thanksgiving to you too.” We enter, walk to the front, light a few vigil lights at the side altar, genuflect and find a pew. Bells ring and Mass begins. We are grateful, warm, content in the moment.

An hour later we arrive home to the savory aroma of roasting turkey. Mama and Busha head straight to the kitchen. I soon hear cranberries popping on the stove, smell sweet potatoes baking in the oven. Basil and I sip eggnog and play a game of Monopoly.

An eternity later, I hear, “It’s time to fill Max,” an order from the kitchen.  Mama mashes potatoes, Busha fills the gravy boat with steaming velvety sauce, Papa ceremoniously platters and places the turkey on the table. He leads us in grace and carves with his usual elegant flair. Thanksgiving dinner is delicious. Every year is better than the last, or so it seems. Mama and Busha share the turkey’s tailbone, “bishop’s hat,” a holdover from The Great Depression when nothing was wasted. Mama serves coffee. Max, filled with cream,  makes his ceremonial pass around the table. I top off my milk, somehow find room for pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream.

“Mincemeat is still my favorite,” Papa declares and helps himself to a second piece.

We clear the table, put leftovers in the Frigidaire, wash and dry dishes while Papa takes a short nap. He wakes up with a yawn, grabs his Lionel train engineer’s cap and heads to the chilly basement to begin our favorite holiday ritual. First he opens the pot belly stove and damper, fills it with wood and kindling, lights the bundle with a match and closes the small door.  He starts his prized engine and sounds the whistle. Busha joins us all downstairs around the train table.

We watch, mesmerized  as it pulls assorted railroad cars around the track, click clack; up, down; over the bridge, through his hand-fashioned, landscaped Lilliputian village, whistling and chugging, much like the real McCoy lumbering down the tracks through the crossing a half-mile away. Basil takes over while Papa stokes the fire.

We are warm and cozy; family in communion; real; Rockwellian.

It was a good year–1949.

Vol. 38 No.4 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2011-12

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