Variety the spice for Thanksgiving celebration
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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, 1802-1880

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 ground.

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 dinner.

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 husband's siblings.

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 home.

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.



Thanksgiving Dinner 2010

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 his dad.

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 grandmother's house.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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