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Holiday Dinner Memories

As a little kid I recall frustration that I had to dress up and kill often a beautiful fall day waiting for T-day dinner at grandma's, at home or at some other relative's. My cousin five years younger felt the same way. One year we got to giggling on grandma's sun porch. Bored, we had a pillow fight and were late for dinner. She still recalls those days. 

The famous "hockey pucks' raisin cake made by aunt. My brother announced they were very good, after we had whispered to each other they'd make good hockey pucks. They were overcooked, but aunt brought him more. Another cause for giggling was grandmother's Irish brogue. "Do you want more "mulk" Joey? quickly I translated that to milk and declined since it was thicker milk than we had at home. Also she served goat's milk from her own goats she had in an extended side yard in suburbia Arlington Heights, MA.

Attending was my mother, aunt who lived with us, my brother and sister, grandmother widowed since about 1920, my uncles John and Edmund. I recall my brother and sister discussing politics with Edmund before 1940.

Thanksgiving at Arlene's, a friend in Missouri, her cousin, daughter and husband and grandkids. In the later 90's, Arlene and her cousin rented a house on a main feeder road into Monett. Monett was a notoriously busy body town, rather flat culturally so we always joked around the singles group that "curtains moved as a spy caught us". We also joked that the phone lines lit up spreading gossip. So going to Arlene's I put a paper bag over my head, with slits and labelled it FBI_CIA. I knocked on the door, Arlene let out a howl of laughter and soon the kids and all did. She has told me the kids remembered it for many years. I still call and chat with her a few times a year. She was the church secretary in my little village for 18 yrs so knew all the intrigue, gossip, history etc. She was from Iowa, her family into large pig farms. She proved very valuable for me an "outsider". She had moved there from Iowa with husband number two who passed away. First one died in a truck accident. Then she married number 3 (with my coaching and he passed away). 

In Mo I had two couples seeking to have me over for protracted visits. Bob and Jane; main feature was nice dinner cooling while Jane went on and on with a "prayer" about the less fortunate, blah blah. After they passed away I had an exchange of emails with one of their daughters about their characteristics, particularly Bob's. A school teacher friend of mine tabbed them "Fibber McGee and Molly" after they brought a Model T to her summer school class.

With Fritz and June, a bit younger than me, and from Chicago it was totally different, June was a first rate cook and writer, our chats were rewarding. Fritz drifted between interesting and obnoxious. Also the wine flowed too freely. I stayed till 2 am more than once. Then June passed away and Fritz got stuck in obnoxious mode, adding in junior high puerile talk about women.

My youngest son Andy, born in '68 made a famous remark about a family dinner with his brother's inlaws. "Holidays are when you get stuck at a dinner table, getting unsolicited advice from someone you would not spend a minute with without family obligations".

"Pickles, olives, I can't remember which one likes what." A cousin of our mother's at dinner table offering the relish tray. My brother and I didn't normally consume any she mentioned. The cousin interrupted a quiet dinner, sounding like a rooster at dawn.

My mother and aunt were twins, with no siblings. They weren't identical but they could confuse people when not side by side. They shared the cooking of dinners. We kids did our own breakfasts and lunches from very early ages. One famous question as dinner and desert were cooking, "Hat, (my mother Harriet) did you put the sugar in the apple pie?" answer, "no I thought you did." So we had some fresh apple pies with or without sugar.

We had a small house so the kitchen was just off the living room, likewise the dining room. So my mother and aunt often participated in the conversation ongoing in the living room while preparing dinner. The conversations were often on world affairs, citations from the 3 or 4 newspapers we had delivered on Sunday, NY Times and the Boston papers. Some of our friends would drop in after church. One of my brother's friends would read the papers aloud to us, even when we were at the dinner table. They were all due at their homes for their dinners. I learned a lot that I would never have bothered to sit and read. I recall the discussions on columnists, Westbrook Pegler, Walter Winchell, etc.

At my ex's house T day was quieter but ALWAYS saw the same scenario. Anne's parents prepared the dinner, sharing duties but her dad always handled the meat. More than once we were all seated, her brother included and her mother or father would ask, "Did you put the rolls in?" It happened often enough to cause everyone to laugh. ALWAYS the rolls and one vegetable would be late to the table.

A memorable Christmas dinner for me was at Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts when I was enroute on orders to Asmara, Eritrea. I had been tipped off that we late arrivals would be chosen for K-P duty Christmas day. Someone warned me to just slip in an empty bunk next to my assigned one. So about 5 am, two airman came through, one with a flashlight, the other a clipboard. I heard my name as they checked where I was supposed to be, but moved on to the next names without searching around. So when it came dinner time I walked quite a distance to a different mess hall and had a nice relaxed dinner. It was cold, with some snow on the ground as I breathed coal smoke from the barracks and mess hall heaters. With 34 months in the Army I pulled K-P only 3 times. One memorable occasion was at Ft. Dix when a sergeant asked for volunteers for pots and pans, saying if you work at it, you'll be out on pass ahead of the others. So I sort of organized the washing and we were done and gone while the non volunteers were washing away. You had to guess when to break the unwritten rule, "never volunteer".

In Missouri about 1994 I was a guest at a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. I ate the most of the bowl of what seemed to me to be Turkey stuffing. The families three kids nibbled a bit and headed for the second refrigerator which was stacked with candy bars, healthy ones, that is.

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