Since I was a little boy, nothing excited me more than the week prior to Thanksgiving. Yes, I loved dressing up for Halloween, and Christmas was brimming with delight and mystery (in the years when I still believed in Santa), but Thanksgiving was the family holiday that seemed unmatched on the calendar. This was the week when old friends came back to visit my parents, as well as relatives I had never met or rarely seen. It was a truly joyous time without the frenzy of Halloween or the clutter of Christmas, when the house seemed smaller because of the huge decorated tree and the train set going in circles beneath it.
When I was a boy my father’s parents lived with us in a two family house in Queens, New York. Nana was the best cook I have ever known. She would start early on the Sunday before the big day, getting ready to clean vegetables and fruit piled in various bowls on her kitchen table. Nana had expertise in a variety of culinary areas, but her true love was making desserts. I have never tasted anything like her puddings, pies, and cakes.
I would assist her in the peeling process, which could become arduous for a nine year old boy after the tenth potato. We would peel what seemed like hundreds of white and sweet potatoes (which I later learned were actually yams). It seemed impossible that these would become the creamy mashed potatoes and the whipped sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top (still one of my favorite taste memories of Thanksgivings past).
We’d finish with the vegetables and then begin washing and peeling the fruit. Invariably I’d be shooed away after sampling one too many chunks of apple or sneaking a few of the sweet dark cherries. She would send me down the hall where Pop was rolling up the rugs in the living and dining room. Pop rarely did housework, but for big events he would vacuum and then take up the rugs, sweep the wood floors, and buff them with a special machine. Of course, I would be in his way as well, so I’d leave their apartment and run upstairs to check on Mom’s progress.