Originally written for another blog in November of 2019. Copied here to preserve work.
Wheatie’s pies reminded us it is time for the annual Thanksgiving Recipe Thread. Please add your favorites and drop a few stories in from your favorite holiday get-togethers.
My Mother’s mother had a saying, “May I always have more guests, than I do dining room chairs.” Remember those who have no family and please, make room at your table.
The stories which come out of the family holidays are wonderful. Here’s a few from our house.
I was a teenager. Dad was dating my soon-to-be stepmother and it was obvious the two would marry. We lived in New Orleans. We had been to her parents for weekends (Pensacola) and she had been to my grandparents for weekends (northern Mississippi), but the two sets of potential in-laws had not met. Thanksgiving at Grandma’s was the first meeting of the clans.
The Florida contingent arrived on Wednesday, scheduled to leave Friday morning, apprehensive, best to plan a short trip. On Wednesday, everyone was on their best behavior, no one drank too much, no one swore. My step-mother turns into an infant around her mother, different speech patterns, annoying. Lots of tension in the air. My grandmother was nervous and doing her best to make a good impression. I was cast out to sleep on the couch in the living room.
All the way through Thursday the tension grew. After a day of football, hors d’oeuvres, and afternoon drinks, it all came to a head as we were ready to serve dinner. Everyone was in the kitchen, trying to help Grandmother pull casseroles, ice in the glasses, pour the wine, and find serving pieces. She was trying to use the best china and insisted Grandpa carve, then place, the turkey onto a beautiful antique china platter. A bit of a scuffle ensued as we all organized dishes to the buffet.
Grandpa needed a bigger platter for the turkey. Grandma wanted to use the pretty platter. Finally, as they negotiated, Grandpa became frustrated, pointed his electric knife at my Grandmother and said, “It’s not big enough for a fuckin’ quail.”
Silence. Grandpa dropped the F bomb. Time stood still. My eyes went wide as I looked around the room to gauge reaction. Grandma was clubbing Grandpa with a wooden spoon, using a distressed voice, “Ea—rl”, always two syllables for Earl. Ray, my step-grandfather was a former Chief Petty Officer in the Navy. He had a highball glass in his hand and spit out his bourbon all over the microwave. Tension broken. Everyone laughed. Grandpa and Ray became fast friends.
Grandpa Ray, the Chief Petty Officer, lit up my world. I loved him. He took me everywhere and didn’t treat me like a kid. His wife was spoiled, nouveau riche, and spent money like water. Ray would give her envelopes filled with $100 bills so she and my step-mother could go shopping. I didn’t like it – seemed wrong. Ray had accumulated several little houses which he rented out to sailors. Ray drove a little pickup truck with a cab filled with house parts. He was the landlord and always fixing something. One Wednesday before Thanksgiving, he let me tag along on a housecall. Probably a leaky faucet, or so I thought.
First, we stopped at the grocery store. He insisted I grab a cart, and he had one, too. No explanation. We moved quietly through the aisles, tomato soup, boxed mac and cheese, saltines, canned vegetables, loaves of bread, hams, turkeys, ground meat, …… and then diapers, and baby formula….. and even dog food and cases of Budweiser beer. We had no babies or dogs. What was he up to? He paid the bill at checkout, over $400. I could barely swing my laden cart.
At the truck, he divided up what we bought, and we were ready to go. Back in the truck, he asked me to open the glove box. He had a stash of white envelopes there, the same white envelopes he gave his wife. He pulled a wad of bills out of his chest pocket. Each envelope was to contain 4-$20 bills and 20-$1 bills. He winked at me, “Sometimes, it’s hard to break a $20.” I nodded, “Yes, Sir.”
We were off again. Twelve stops, to “his men”. He whistled along the way. He was happy. At the first stop, I got out of the car and headed up the walkway to ring the bell. He stopped me, “Nonono, we’ll go around back.” I paused and waited for him. Each “delivery” was made to the back door, quietly, privately, as not to embarrass another man. He tucked the cash envelope into the screen door. Never said a word to the people who lived there. After the first delivery, I sat in the car and looked at him… differently, with tears in my eyes. He winked at me. He was having fun, “Gotta take care of your men.”
By the 3rd-4th visit, we were met at the backdoor by a guy with a gun. It was one of “his men”. He apologized profusely, broke into thanks and finally, tears. He hugged Ray tightly, and I could feel the tears sting my eyes. $100 was a lot of money back in the 70’s. Later on, we ran into another wife, three little ones at her knees, who immediately broke into tears. As we returned home, my step-mother and his wife returned from their shopping. They showed us all their new clothes, modeling for Ray. He nodded like nothing ever happened. I took my cue from him. Our trip was our secret.
Funny, that year, I don’t even remember what we ate for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Today, we don’t use as much cash, but every now and then, a $100 bill will cross my path, and I think of Ray. As a nod to Ray, when Gunner was little, in his Christmas stocking, I would roll up 20-$1bills with a little ribbon around each one. As a kid, he felt rich. When he was about 12yrs old, he asked me why I didn’t just use a $20 bill. He was annoyed with all the tiny ribbons. I explained the story of Ray and added, “Sometimes, it’s hard to break a $20.” Lesson learned. Be thankful, appreciative, humble, and “Gotta take care of your men”.
There’s a million more, but we’ll stop there.
Life is interesting when we all come together.