Our table was World War II vintage, a pickled oak finish, and down its four legs were large V's. V for Victory. The matching chairs had carved eagles of red, white and blue. Unpretentious and sturdy, and patriotic with a capital P.
This is where Campbell's Vegetable Soup was served for lunch on school days, with a Wonder Woman comic book propped up against the sugar bowl. It was where Mom divided her salary into envelopes, so much for groceries, so much for gas, so much for electricity. It was where Great Grandma sat while reading the newspaper, her glasses slipping down her nose as she formed each word with her lips and adding occasionally, "my, my" or often, "what a fool thing!"
But if our table was humbly and ordinarily used throughout the year, it became a centerpiece of festivity at Thanksgiving. Grandpa would grunt and wrestle in the extra table leaves, to accommodate our out-of-town family. Mom would spread the big white tablecloth across it, obliterating the marks of pencil points and pot burns.
Great Grandma would give the "silverware" an extra polish with her apron end as she placed the knives and forks. A sisterly card table was added at the end, a little lower in height and smaller in scale, but just right for children. Extra folding chairs would be added later by aunts and uncles who had been asked to "bring their own."
First to come were the West Siders, with stair-step younger cousins who made lots of noise. My job was to "amuse" them until dinner was ready, but that was hours away. Next were the out-of-towners, all the way from Akron. Here was a cousin I seldom saw, and before the end of the day, would probably be glad his visits were few and far between.
As the men settled themselves into easy chairs in the living room, a layer of cigarette smoke slowly rose to the ceiling. They chatted about jobs and homes, and attacked a bowl of mixed unshelled nuts with steady attention.
But the most interesting things were happening in the tiny kitchen. The plump turkey had been set on the porcelain work table and now was about to get what today would be called a "Bikini." Out of purses and apron pockets came the essential turkey tool of that era-tweezers.
Four pairs of eyes and hands descended upon the cold, blue-skinned bird, intent on removing any trace of pinfeathers. The modern ministrations of turkeydom had succeeded in accomplishing the unlovely task of plucking the entire feather covering of Mr. Turkey, but had not as yet fine-tuned the pinfeather removal.
Each miniscule bristle of feather remnant remained, small black dots that were now being apprehended and removed with the women's tweezers. With such busy hands, it wasn't long before the bird had been stuffed, massaged and popped into the oven to transform into a lovely main course.
The hours passed as the meal worked towards completion. Young cousins whined and argued, hungry and bored. I had run out of "amusements" for them and had retreated to find my out-of-town cousin who was a year younger than I. He was no help. He had locked himself in the bathroom. When ordered by Grandpa to come out "or else" he had by that time succeeded in sculpting the "company soap" into a blue whale...or turtle, we weren't sure which.
Finally the meal was coming to its final phase. Mr. Turkey rested on the porcelain table. Grandpa took out his knife and a long sword-like thing, used for sharpening his knives. "Zing, zing" he went, drawing the knife towards him, then away, as he wielded his blade and whetstone. Now Grandpa's surgical skills were demonstrated, as he sliced into the moist and aromatic meat.
What grace! What precision! If this poultry sacrifice had to be made, then the Master Carver was offering, with great reverence, beautiful slices for the family platter.
The women carried the bowls of potatoes, vegetables, rolls, cranberries and such to the table and we were all told to come to the table. Dinner-at last!-was served.
At The Table
We sat with anticipation for the arrival of the turkey platter, brimming with draftsman-sliced white meat, two huge drumsticks, all reclining upon a bed of sage-scented stuffing. The one uncle said grace and with fervent "amens" the platters began to be passed.
Today I am remembering that table where we all gathered for so many Thanksgivings. I loved that table where so many memories were made. But it is gone. Given away, out-of-date, too heavy, too big, too old-whatever the reason.
When I sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, I will be thinking of that table from long ago. I will see clearly each face and each expression of my family. I will remember the women huddled over the turkey with their tweezers, and the whispered message that an aunt was again having a baby-sssh!
I will remember the cousin who whipped the heavy cream with such ferocity that we had butter topping for the pumpkin pie. I will remember the uncles with their starched white shirts. "How is school going?" they would ask, and then turn back to talk of sports and politics.
The scent of sage and steam rising from that old table comes to me again, along with all the dear faces that are now gone. Only a few of us remain. We are spread across a continent in more ways than just geography, each making his or her own Thanksgiving at their own tables.
This year I will sit down at someone else's table. I have made my own memories from other Thanksgivings past. Now it is someone else's turn to wrestle in the extra leaves, spread the cloth, polish the "silverware."
As we offer a blessing once more, I am surrounded by dear and loved faces around the table. If I close my eyes, I think I can see loved faces from other tables and other times as well.
All of them have been, and always will be, God's blessings to me.