Passing on the keys: One family welcomes home traditions old and new for Thanksgiving
Above: Jean Peterson made this Thanksgiving tablecloth years ago for her parents; on the border it features the appliqued handprints of family members.
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"Please, please, don't set the table until we get there," was the plea over the phone from Anika, Alanna and Kara. They and their parents would be arriving around 12:30 p.m., and the rest of the clan would be waiting eagerly for their arrival. The Thanksgiving Feast would not be served until around 2 p.m., so, of course we would wait to set the table! It's a new tradition!
The "Welcome Home" sign has been up since Tuesday night when Matthew, Katie and Andrew and their parents arrived after picking up Matthew at the University of Mary Washington. The first "Welcome Home" sign was an ancient one left over from a World War I banner, and I remember it being hung outside the door each time I came home from college. Now there is a new one that still goes up when the family gathers.
We've been getting ready for this Thanksgiving Concatenation ever since the sign went up. Concatenations are an old tradition with us. Grandpa Barbour always put up the Concatenation Agenda for our gatherings, and we could add items, the sillier the better, to the list. Our agenda this time included making the eight-handed apple pies with some of us peeling, some slicing, some rolling, some snacking ("Who's been eating the sugared apples?"). Crumbling the bread for the Heirloom Stuffing Recipe had many hands at work also. Finding your own hand on the Thanksgiving tablecloth was on the agenda, and some people's hands are a lot bigger than when the appliques of their hands were first put on the cloth. Of course, the pre-feast Barbour Weigh-In was a big item. Being the first one to spot the new arrivals was on the list, and we kept peeking out the windows hoping to be the one to shout, "They're here!"
Duffy, the dachshund, was the first one in the door, so she got the first hugs. After hugs all around Anika, Alanna, and Kara joined Katie and the table setting began. First they had to remove every piece of Grammy Pete's beautiful old silverware from the tarnish-proof box, look at the backs of the spoons for initials and dates, pick out their favorite special pieces, and admire tiny spoons and fancy handles. "Oh, look, this one must be Great-Great-Grandmother Eckerman's from 1909." "Where does the salad fork go?" "Why doesn't the fork go on the right side since I eat with my right hand?" "Where is the napkin-folding book?" They answered their own questions this time, in the fifth year of this tradition. Soon they had magically folded each napkin into a beautiful flower and placed each one on a plate with a tiny red maple leaf in the center. We all stood back to admire this spectacular table.
Who knew that this would become a tradition? Of course, we must have the turkey, the Heirloom Stuffing, homemade gravy, the traditional corn pudding, and pies -- apple, pumpkin and pecan. But what about the new version of corn pudding, the Mexican Tomalito, that appeared last year? How did that happen?
"Let us build memories in our children, lest they drag out joyless lives, lest they allow themselves to be lost because they have not been given the keys," said Antoine De St. Exupery. This is the season of traditions. Those old traditions sustain us and give us continuity, especially that most important one -- being together. And then there are these new traditions that we didn't even notice being established until, suddenly, there they are, an important part of the celebration. What will these next generations pass on? Will it be the Heirloom Stuffing recipe and the Eight-Handed Apple Pie? Or will it be the napkins in the shape of flowers and the Mexican corn pudding? Is it our children who are now building memories in us and being sure we are given the keys?
JEAN PETERSON, Churchill
My sisters and I were always responsible for crumbling the bread for the turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving. Our mother did the rest of the magic, and we all gobbled it up as the best stuffing ever. When I, the eldest, was getting married I finally asked my mother for the famous recipe. She handed me the Durkee seasoning can and pointed to the recipe on the back!
There was much laughter, and we all declared at that moment that this would be known as The Heirloom Recipe -- just the right balance of sauteed celery and onions, the perfect amount of poultry seasoning and the best bread, homemade if you have it.
First Published November 22, 2010 12:00 am