by V.J. Pacilio
Growing up during the 1950’s, Thanksgiving dinner was, without question, the most special and meaningful family meal of the year at our house. We truly had much to be grateful for, and Thanksgiving was the one holiday that focused solely on taking stock of life’s positives. No gifts to buy, just family coming together to enjoy each other’s company and to give thanks for the life we were fortunate to have been living. (The meal, itself, wasn’t too bad either!)
A typical Thanksgiving Day found my Dad, my two Brothers and I lounging around in the living room watching the black and white TV, while my mother – who was a fantastic cook – spent a good part of her day in the kitchen. At her side would be my younger Sister, who was probably more nuisance than help, but none-the-less in the process of serving her apprenticeship years.
Every so often one of us would peek in and ask if we could help in any way, but the answer was almost always the same; “I’ll call you if I need you.” She rarely did! Occasionally, a quick trip to the Grocery Store to pick up an item in short supply was requested, but any help with the actual meal preparation was out of the question. The kitchen was Mom’s favorite room in the house – she refered to it as her “studio” – and she took great pleasure in preparing the turkey as well as the seemingly endless procession of salads and side dishes that would eventually accompany it to the table. The one and only thing she did not make was the turkey stuffing which was traditionally prepared by my Grandmother.
At precisely 4:00PM dinner was served. The salads and side dishes would be in place before we all arrived at the table. Next would come the main event; the turkey. The stuffing was always the very last dish to make it’s appearance.x As Dad started carving the bird, the grand entrance of the stuffing was, unfailingly, greeted by a large chorus of loud, animated “oohs and aahs.” As if that wasn’t enough, at least once during the meal someone would tell Grandma that it was “The best stuffing they had ever tasted” and everyone at the table would whole-heartedly agree. It always embarrassed her but she never got tired of hearing it and, I’m sure, she would have been totally crushed should this anticipated yearly compliment be somehow overlooked.
One Thanksgiving, however, Grandma was unable to perform her annual duties, having had a minor accident a week earlier that left her temporarily confined to wheelchair with her right arm in a sling. My Mother, with help from my Sister, prepared the stuffing that day, and to my 13-year old palate it tasted virtually the same as Grandma’s.
About 5 minutes into the meal my Sister, obviously fishing for a compliment, commented that the stuffing had really turned out great. “Yes it did” obliged my Dad. “You and your Mother did a marvelous job.” I was just about to add my confirmation when I noticed a kind of melancholy look on the face of my Grandmother who was seated directly across from me at the table. There came an uneasy pause as, one by one, the others sensed what was going on. Then my older Brother, who had always been the diplomat of the family, spoke up. “The stuffing is really good” he said. Then after a slight hesitation that seemed much longer at the time, he added, “Probably the second best stuffing I’ve ever tasted.” Everyone, including and especially Grandma, caught the meaning of his proclamation and laughed. The uneasy moment had passed and the remainder of the meal was as festive and special as ever.