Thanksgiving Would Never Be the Same Again
Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday of the year. Probably because I love food, all types of food. I do not discriminate against any type or ethnicity. As a child, Thanksgiving was that holiday where I did absolutely nothing. I slept in late and then planted myself on the couch (while still in my pajamas), to indulge in a little binge watching of The Twilight Zone Marathon. Once I became bored with watching reruns, I would gather the neighborhood kids for a friendly game of tag football. I grew up with all boys so I was a bit of a tomboy in my youth. My mother, however would spend her entire day in the kitchen slaving away, preparing a feast. This year was quite different!
Thanksgiving Day, 1980, was not like any other Thanksgiving Day and it would never be the same again. I woke up earlier than usual to play football. The morning, was a beautiful day in Southern California and I could hear the vacant church across the street screaming, “Lorena, come play an exciting game of football, your favorite sport.” I was headed to the great outdoors, I reached my hand out for the door knob, when my mother called out, “LORENA!” She only called me Lorena when she was mad. Was I in trouble?!? What did I do? With my eyes bugged out of my head and nervous, I turned towards the kitchen and walked ever so slowly to my mom. I stood in the doorway and while my mother was grabbing food out of the refrigerator, asked “Where do you think you are going?” I proceeded to tell her that I was going to put together a fun game of football for the neighborhood kids. I was the ring leader of the neighborhood and my mom was well aware of how much I enjoyed coordinating events for the neighborhood kids and myself. My mother firmly responded, “No, you are not!” YIKES! Confused, I asked, “Why not? My mother looked at me with a BIG Grinch grin on her face and said, “I am going to teach you to cook the Thanksgiving feast.”
REALLY!?!? Did I miss the memo? I looked up to the ceiling, trying to think if perhaps one night I was sleep walking and asked her to teach me something that was completely and utterly useless to me or maybe I challenged her by asking for her to think of a task that had absolutely no relevance in my life and attempt to teach me how to complete that talk. For Pete’s sake I was in the 8th grade! Why on God’s earth would she want to teach me this?
I am a very transparent person so I am sure my body language was screaming that I was frustrated, angry and wanted no part in what I thought was a tormenting chore. My mom didn’t seem to care one bit! She ordered me to go get a notebook to take notes. I did as requested. She explained that she was going to walk through every dish and the recipe. I was to shadow and take notes. She said to make sure I asked plenty of questions because I was going to use these same notes next year to help prepare the meal. My mom wasn’t joking! She truly was going to teach me how to make Thanksgiving Dinner but WHY?!?!?
There I was, standing in the kitchen as if it was a dungeon, my dungeon of doom! When all I wanted was to be outside under the warm sunlight playing football. I was tasked with writing out each recipe. Trying to cut corner, I asked my mom, Hey mom, done you own one of those red and white Betty Crocker’s Cook Books? Every household in American had one. My mom looked at my cross and answered, “Why do we need a cookbook? I have all the recipes in my head.” At this time in my life (although I completely and utterly appreciate quality food) I could truly appreciate some boxed mashed potatoes, canned green beans and frozen corn. My mom prides herself in making everything from scratch. Boy, was this going to be ever so taxing and try my patience.
We started by gutting the turkey and boiling all of its insides, including the neck. That made me sick to my stomach and I questioned why we were doing this. My mom explained that we will add this to the stuffing. I loudly screeched, “You mean to tell me all these years I have been eating turkey guts?!? With that Grinch like smile (and garlic in her soul), stated, “Yes, and you have love it!” We had to make the stuffing first. We diced onions, celery, carrots, black olives, and garlic cloves. Once the guts were done cooking (about 20 minutes), they needed to cool before chopping because they are too hot to handle. Next, in a large pan, we sautéed all the diced veggies with olive oil, butter and Italian seasonings. We added the turkey guts. It smelled so good! I got to taste test the stuffing and boy, was it delicious. We stuffed the turkey with the stuffing, rubbed the turkey with butter, seasoned it with more Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, poured a half bottle of white wine over it, covered it and placed it in the oven on low, 250 degrees. I learned that a turkey cooking time is factored by its weight and takes the longest to make that is why it goes in the oven first.
Next, we prepared the mashed potatoes. We cleaned, peeled, cut the potatoes and put them in a pot of water and placed them in the refrigerator. I learned that the potatoes would boil for 20 minutes, then we would mash them, add cream, parmesan cheese and season. We would make them later. Sounded simple to me. By this time, I was ready to make my grand exit but my mom started the next recipe. My mom would start a new dish so I would title the page the name of the dish. Then, I would write all the ingredients and when I asked what the measurements were for each ingredient, she would say, “Oh a dash of this and a dash of that,” or she would pour the seasoning in the palm of her hand and say, “About this much.” Now this was a BIG issue for me because I am a rule follower and I needed to know the exact measurements. I quickly learned to guesstimate measurements but didn’t like it. So I kept the set of our orange colored Tupperware measuring spoons in the pocket of the apron, prepared so when my mom said, “About this much,” I would pull out the measuring spoons and make an executive decision of the measurement. I certainly couldn’t write down a dash of thyme or a palm full of Italian seasonings. I had the honors of taste testing all the food as if I was a food critic. I enjoyed this part off day and understood why every year when it came time to eat, my mom hardly ate anything…..she was full from taste testing.
To try and get out of what seemed like the never ending day in the dungeon, I would suggest we skip certain dishes, for instance the green salad. I suggested, “We have green beans, that is enough greens,” but my mom insisted, proclaiming that one day I may want to make the dish I was attempting to dismiss, so we made it anyway. She explained that I needed to learn how long each dish took to prepare and cook because as she would say, “The most important thing about Thanksgiving dinner is having everything ready at the same time.” Sounded impossible to me but she did it year after year so I trusted her. I spent my entire day writing recipes and making notes. I was beginning to feel like a reporter of some sort.
By this time, the holiday that was second to Christmas was now the forever dreaded holiday. If I had to do this again the following year, I never wanted to see another Thanksgiving as long as I lived. My mom shared that each year her expectations were for me to graduate to state of independence and eventually I could prepare this meal all on my own. She went on to say that next year I would follow my notes, while she supervised and would make any suggestions. OH WHAT FUN! The year after that, she would supervisor but not say a word and the last year, I was 100% on my own. She said she was going to clean the house, while I cooked. JOY! The final year, she was going to go visit her sister while I prepared the dinner and set the table for guest. This was projected to be a four year project! I have heard of child labor but this was RIDICULOUS! I thought I figured out now why she was teaching me. She wanted to go have fun, while I slaved away in the kitchen! Finally, I was writing the last recipe for gravy and when it came time to sit and eat, I didn’t even so much want to see the turkey or any of the fixings. What a wasted day in my life! My mom ever so kindly reminded me that next year, we would be working solely off of my notes and commanded me to “Put them somewhere you won’t lose them.” I said, “I know where….the fireplace!” She didn’t seem to appreciate that suggestion.
Thanksgiving 1981, came all too soon! I was hoping that my mom was going to forget about her preposterous ordeal but who was I trying to fool? My mother was a paralegal for the county of Los Angeles for 40 years but with her forensic mentality, should have been a police officer. She NEVER forgets anything and she didn’t forget about this. There I was, the apprentice, in the kitchen with my mom playing oldies on her radio, apron on, reading my notes, cutting, chopping, cooking, sautéing this, tasting that, added spices here, turning the heat down there, not feeling confident but working through it. I had a lot of questions and when I would ask my mom, she would replay, “What do you think?” Finally, the table was set and dinner was ready. I made the turkey, smashed potatoes, green bean casserole, salad, cranberry sauce, creamed corn, stuffing, candied yams, salad, gravy and dinner rolls. By the time it was time to indulge, I had a whole new respect for my mom. My perspective changed and although I was overwhelmed at times, my mom was right there to push me through.
Year three, Thanksgiving 1982 my mom stood by silent, just watching my every move. When I asked a question, my mom would not answer and said, “Figure it out!” I was frustrated! I only made this dish on an annual basis and was still not confident. I continued to follow my hand written recipes that now had gravy spills, butter stains and side notes written all over the pages. My mom was not the type of person to say, “Well done” or “Good job” yet I so needed to hear that now, so on occasion, I would look at her and smile and she would smile back. That smile was all I needed! I accepted it as an unspoken, “Good job.” I prepared the same exact dishes year after year. That year when my family came over, my mom announced that I made the entire dinner all by myself. I couldn’t take all the credit for the entire job and confessed that my mom was next to me, watching and guiding me.
Year four, Thanksgiving 1983, I was a junior in high school. This year, my mom did not go grocery shopping with me. I was driving by now so I went on my own. I walked out of the grocery store and had spent hundreds of dollars….on one meal! On Thanksgiving morning, my mom woke up and asked me to get my notes to get started. She got dressed, grabbed her keys and said, “By, I will be back around 3 pm.” Then she left the house to go visit her sister. She walked out the door and for a split second, I thought, she is coming right back………but she didn’t. This was it! This is what my mom spent three years preparing me for. It was show time! I was feeling more confident than previous years but not 100%. Yet, I knew I could do this! I turned the radio on to my mom’s oldies, put on my apron and took Mr. Turkey from the refrigerator. Let the gutting begin AND don’t burn down the house!
Pots were boiling with water for potatoes, stuffing was being sautéed, guts were cooking for the stuffing….it was all coming together. My mom is always punctual and returned at 3 pm. I was wrapping things up, making my final touches when she walked in. As she entered the kitchen she said, “It smells good!” This year I decided to make a pumpkin pie, it was a surprise because my mother loves pumpkin anything. My aunt baked and I got the recipe from her. I practiced making pumpkin pies early in November as a test run and shared them with my grandmother (without my mom’s knowledge).
As I sat down at table, our candelabra illuminated our well-dressed table and the enormous feast I prepared. I took great pride in this accomplishment, knowing that my two adult aunts were not never taught and were not capable of preparing Thanksgiving dinner themselves.
My senior year, I prepared the Thanksgiving dinner as normal. That year, we had a small party so we had plenty of left overs. I lived 5 doors from my high school so the day after Thanksgiving, I invited a few of my friends over to help eat the left overs. My feast certainly could not go to waste! None of my friends believed I made the dinner. They insisted my mother made it all. To prove them wrong, I had them over and had my mom informed them for herself. They marveled over it! The next day at school, I proudly walked through the school campus thinking to myself, I bet I am the only student who can cook the entire Thanksgiving dinner, plus pumpkin pie all by myself.
Years later after I got married, my mother and family were sitting at the dinner table at my house, enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday together when my mom sweetly expressed how happy she was that I knew how to make a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. She added that I improved all of her recipes. She went on to point out that because her mother never taught her or her sisters how to cook Thanksgiving dinner, she felt it was her duty to teach me. Now I knew why……….AND, I was so very THANKFUL!