Over the river and through the woods,
To grandmother's house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow, O!
ó From "Over
the River and Through the Woods,"
by Lydia Maria Child, American author and abolitionist,
I've celebrated Thanksgiving Day in many
places, but have never gone over the river and through the woods
to grandmother's house in a horse-driven sleigh on snow-covered
Both my grandmothers died before I was born.
Never rode in a horse-drawn sleigh anywhere.
Growing up, I rode in dad's Jeep with my
parents to my Aunt Katy's house, which fit some kind of image,
being white wood-frame with a front porch; however there was a
carbon factory across the street, a barroom next door, and the
Shawmut line's railroad tracks running through the back yard. My
paternal grandfather lived there and we all crowded around the
big table in the kitchen, halting our conversation when the
train whistled by.
When my father built our ranch house, he did
as my mother asked and designed it with a small kitchen and tiny
dining room. Mother had no intention of hosting the entire
family for holiday meals. Instead, she got a recreation room in
the basement with a piano and bar, for small parties that she
preferred giving. For Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Katy's, she'd
take her traditional baked beans, and cranberry sauce carved
with a cookie cutter into little red turkeys.
I saw the wisdom in her house plan and went
further. I have no dining room, and no recreation room either.
I'll take Aunt Katy's fruit/marshmallow salad when invited to
One of my most memorable Thanksgiving meals
was shared with American expatriates in Baja California in 2000.
Chip Ford and I were staying at my son's casita there and a
local restaurant offered a traditional Thanksgiving meal with
some Mexican sides.
This year, I'm grateful that my grandchildren
won't be spending the holidays in Mexico, but will instead be
driving over the desert to Grumpaw's hotel suite in Las Vegas
for a bright-light vacation far away from the Mexican drug wars.
Back when Grumpaw and I were married, we
drove through the western Pennsylvania woods to our son's
grandmother's home for more traditional Thanksgiving dinners.
This was close to the fantasy, set in another white-clapboard
house with a front porch, in a dining room filled with my
Years later, when I was home for
Thanksgiving, we would go with my parents to my cousin's house,
where Aunt Katy now lived. By then everyone had tired of the
fruit/marshmallow salad so I brought candy from Salem's Harbor
Sweets or Marblehead's Stowaway Sweets. The men carried their
plates into the living room to watch football while the women
caught up with family news around the table. There was always a
loaf of Aunt Katy's potica, a Croatian walnut bread, to take
While knowing the value of these annual
family connections, I also happily recall Thanksgivings far
away, when we were a Navy family.
Traveling to these faraway places was fun
back then. Airline seats were comfortable, with enough leg room,
and seats that tilted almost all the way back for naps. We went
quickly through security with our shoes on, even though during
some of that period there were airline incidents involving
hijackers. I myself was armed with a Swiss army knife for
opening little packages of peanuts. I served my first piecemeal
Thanksgiving in Pensacola, Fla. I've always had trouble
coordinating the main course to the sides, so we had vegetables
at 2 and stuffed turkey at 4 in the afternoon.
In Long Beach we ate on the USS Kearsarge ó
an elegant meal served by Filipinos who carved vegetables into
arrangements that looked like tropical flowers. In Greece we ate
at the home of a Navy chief; I loved his wife's Ritz-cracker
stuffing, made it myself one Thanksgiving that I spent alone
many years later.
When it was just me and the two cats, I
stuffed a chicken instead of a turkey, set the table for the
three of us, and had the most relaxing holiday of my life.
I've had many wonderful meals with my second
husband's family and later, with a boyfriend's family, here in
Massachusetts. I took the fruit/marshmallow salad and candy.
I remember with pleasure my first and last
Thanksgiving meal cooked by Chip's mother in Tewskbury, just
before she died in a car accident. Since his siblings don't use
her liver-and-sausage stuffing recipe, Chip bought a grinder and
makes it himself every year, freezing single turkey meals for
I like Chip's stuffing, in the turkey from
the Marblehead Community Store, which gets them from a place
where turkeys grow in a happy environment. Aunt Katy is baking
bread for the angels now, but I found her potica in the Vermont
Country Store catalog and order it for myself, my son's family,
and a former boyfriend who always enjoyed it.
Like my mother, I carve the cranberry sauce
into little red turkeys using a cookie cutter. I take them
across the yard to Chipís dining area, singing as I walk about
being carried in a horse-drawn sleigh over the river to