Like most Weequahic Jews, we always enjoyed a lavish Thanksgiving meal. The cook was always my mother. That year, 1948, was no exception. I was 9 years old and I did something terrible.
Thanksgiving has always been the most American of our Jewish holidays. We are part of the mainstream. We eat the same meals as everyone else and our celebration is just as joyful and meaningful. Thanksgiving is inclusive. We too can talk about our turkeys and stuffing and how warm and wonderful it is for the family to gather together. Even though it’s not always quite that cozy!
In those days, like today, the meal itself was pretty much standard. No kugels. No challah. No gefilte fish or chopped liver. Turkey, cranberry sauce (canned of course), sweet potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, and coleslaw. Apple pie for dessert. All-American indeed.
Today’s modifications include gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, lo-carb, paleo, ketogenic, and more. Not easy! But, somehow it gets done.
I don’t even have to think about our guest list in 1948. It was the same as it had been every other year. It included the five of us who lived on Aldine Street, and my mother’s two brothers and their families from Queens NY.
Uncle Dave and Aunt Fannie came with Leon, their son who was almost exactly my age. There was no intrigue there. Everyone got along just fine, thank you, and my aunt, who was never an accomplished cook like my mother, bestowed sincere compliments on the meal. Every year.
They are all gone now and I miss them; I long for them, especially the treasured Dave. I see them clearly in my memory bank, sitting at the table, mightily enjoying themselves.
My mother’s brother, Charlie, was another story. Of course my mother blamed the friction on his wife the buxom Boston Brahmin Bessie. I suspect my mother was correct. Charlie was a fairly gentle giant, stooped over from his career as a dentist, always mustached, and often found singing selections from the opera he loved so dearly. If he were coming to Newark alone he would have been punctual. My mother knew that. But Bessie had to make a statement and being late, well, that was part of the statement.
So, every year pre-Thanksgiving there was a heated discussion in our house about the schedule. My mother usually wanted to serve at 2 p.m. That would give her enough time to prepare and, with skipping lunch, everyone would be hungrily equipped to eat the delicious results of her labor. The problem was that no matter what the scheduled time actually was, Charlie, Bessie, and their two sons, my cousins, Richie and Jonathan, would arrive at least an hour late. Waiting for guests who are late is annoying to say the least. Thus my parents would conjure up various plans. The ultimate and only workable plan was to tell Charlie and Bessie that dinner would be scheduled for 1 p.m. That should bring them right on time at 2.
But, that year, 1948, our Thanksgiving morning was not typical. Not at all. That was the year of the bedspread. I did a bad thing in 1948 and I can still recall the dread I felt when I realized the consequences of my actions. One doesn’t forget things like that. Ever.
Nothing went as planned. Incredibly, at 1 p.m. precisely, Charlie, Bessie and kids arrived at our door. Foiled again! The turkey was still far from being ready to carve. The cranberry sauce was sitting on the kitchen table encased in three cans. The dining room table was being set. My mother, in all fairness, expected to be serving at 3 p.m., an hour beyond the schedule, and now, two hours in advance, some of the hungry guests were awaiting their dinner.
Add this to my episode with the bedspread and you’ll know why this was an unforgettable Thanksgiving.
Mom had bought at some October sale a glittery shiny silvery bedspread, very glamorous and beautiful. I would have thought she would not have considered it to be tasteful since her style normally ran to subdued and quiet. This was somewhat of an aberration, which, thanks to me, didn’t last very long.
Mom didn’t treat herself very often but she was in love with that bedspread. She showed it to any visitors and all the shul Ladies Auxiliary who had come to a meeting at our house, with immense pride. And then I destroyed it. I still cannot understand what I had been thinking, or not, when I sat on that bed, covered with its sumptuous spread, with a fresh, open, and full bottle of blue ink. Of course, you know what happened. I accidentally spilled the entire bottle on the bedspread. That became the first, and last, time I ever brought my mother to tears.
This happened well over 70 years ago, so, even though in the scheme of life, it wasn’t really earth shaking, I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. Believe me, like you, I have since dealt with many serious challenges to my serenity. Nonetheless, this still resonates. I felt shock and horror watching the ink spread, even seeping down onto the bedding beneath. Then I had to call my mother in and tell her.
Of course she could see for herself! And all this in the midst of her Thanksgiving preparations. I still do penance, mentally at least, when I think about it. It was, to me, more than an infraction. It was criminal. Guilty as charged. I’m surmising my mother felt the same but, after shedding some tears, she removed it from the bed and never again mentioned it. From then on their bed was covered with an unadorned plain quilt.
She went on to serve the meal, at 2:30, as if there had been no trauma.
That is what I remember of Thanksgiving 1948.