Another Thanksgiving at Mom and Dad's House
Beverly, Massachusetts. The Old Home Town in the early 1900s
Miss Fitzgerald and Mr. Armstrong
by Bill Russo
I went to my parents’ house today for dinner, as I have done every year for the past 72 Thanksgivings.
As usual Dad had mysteriously managed to transform his small dining room table into something resembling a flattop aircraft carrier from 1943.
Extra leaf? No, not just a leaf. Not a thousand leaves. There had to be a whole tree involved in that magical expansion. Nobody had ever lifted up the white table cloth and looked underneath, so the source of Dad’s expansionary magic was never revealed.
Dad’s resourcefulness was born of the necessity of having to provide a tremendously large space to hold all the food that Mama and my Grandmother prepared.
There always were enough delicious delicacies to feed 12 people or 25, depending on how many showed up; and at Mom’s house, anyone was welcome to the table – with or without advance notice.
The menu never varied and never got boring. Turkey and all the fixings in tribute to the Pilgrims who landed in Provincetown harbor in 1620 – in addition to ravioli, gnocci, lasagna, and little honey-coated dough balls called ‘Gi Gis’; those delightful items were in tribute to my ‘Paisan’ relatives who landed in Boston Harbor in 1920.
Those gathered for the dinner included all the children, grand children, and great grandchildren as well as grandparents, great grandparents, and assorted friends and neighbors.
As usual before the dinner, Dad stood up from his seat at the head of the table and looked around solemnly before breaking out into an expansive smile and said, “I’m responsible for all of this!”
Mom never said much, she was like a train with but one track, that leading to the kitchen where she went every few minutes to retrieve a new load of steaming vegetables, or the basket of hot chestnuts she had been roasting in a cast iron skillet on the kitchen stove.
Nonna would stand up and raise herself to her full four feet and ten inches of height and command everyone: “Eat, eat. Mange, mange, you too skinny.”
Everyone loved Nonna, especially the people who really were very, very far from being ‘too skinny’.
My great grandfather was seated as usual in the children’s section so he could be close to people his own age. My Mom realized that there is an amazing and mysterious bond between the very young and the very old.
Guests were made to feel as if they were long standing members of the family. Dad truly meant it when he said to them – ‘mi casa, su casa’, (my house-your house).
Before dinner, Dad would lead the guests to his ‘man-cave’ in his finished cellar - complete with bar, stools, and even a pair of old fashioned high backed wooden restaurant booths.
After a beverage or two, the convivial group would return upstairs just in time for dinner.
There was always an empty chair at the gatherings. A plate was set at the table in front of the empty seat. Framed photos of friends and relations missing or departed; were set on the plate, so that they could be remembered just as if they were present.
The Thanksgiving Dinner that I enjoyed today at my parents’ home, was only in my memory and my mind; but that did not prevent me from smelling once again the aroma of those days and from seeing those beautiful faces of long ago.
My ears don’t hear as they used to and my eyes don’t see as well, but as George, and brother Ira, Gershwin said in their 1937 song - I still have my memories, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”
The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No no they can't take that away from me
The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No no they can't take that away from me
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