My grandmother had a 5 room house, including the bathroom. This equaled roughly 750 square feet. It was in this house that she raised 7 children. This same house was where she welcomed and entertained each of her grandchildren as if they were the only grandchild she had. This same house was where we met for holidays. By the time that I remember holidays, 3 of my mother’s siblings had moved out of state. But the rest of us gathered every Thanksgiving, the Sunday before Christmas, the 4th of July, and any other time during warm weather when we could have a “wiener roast”. A life time of childhood memories were created in that house.
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Thanksgiving was a big meal. There was always a huge turkey. Gramma would fix her awesome dressing. The Aunts would all discuss the best way to make gravy while they threw different ingredients into the pot. This discussion occurred each year. I never did figure out why. One would think they would figure it out and write down the directions after all those years! Maybe that is why I can’t make gravy – I never saw it made the same way twice! There were pineapple slices coated with green Jell-O. There were peanut butter rice crispy treats. Mashed potatoes swam in butter. Bacon slices floated in the green beans. Golden corn was heaped into a bowl, emitting that wonderful sweet corn smell. The yeasty smell of rolls wafted through the house. Different desserts made their appearance through the years, but the main meal never changed.
In the kitchen were the 5 adult ladies. In the living room were the 5 adult men and various teen cousins watching football. Running through the
house, getting underfoot, and banging out the door were the rest of us cousins. Eventually the call would come that dinner was ready. We would all gather in the kitchen where we would all join hands for grace – all 20 of us – not including any stray friends one of us may have brought along, or boyfriends or girlfriends that were being introduced to the family. Then the rush to find seats started. There was the grown up table and there was the kids table. Sometimes, if there was an extra card table or two, there would be the middle table. But me, I was always at the kids table. This was the table reserved for those of us above 4 but under 12. Sometimes, once you 12 you were allowed to move up to the adult table if there was room, or if there was a middle table you could eat with the “big cousins”. But me, being the 3rd to the youngest of the grandkids, was perpetually at the kids table.
Image by juliegever via Flickr
This table was always a card table that invariable was bumped or jiggled which resulted in some sort of spill. It was always covered with an old sheet that soaked up all the various spills and plate jiggling. This table did not have chairs. Nope, furniture that was designed for sitting was reserved for adult and older cousins. Those of us at the kids table got the lard cans. For those of you who did not grow up in the country, when a pig was raised on the farm and subsequently butchered, the fat was rendered into lard which was returned to the family in large cans – roughly 24 inches tall and 16 inches around. The cans had tops that could be removed to access the lard and then put back on – similar to today’s Tupperware lids. Only these were made of metal. And the metal lids had creases around the edges to accommodate the can. The ridges were not rounded or smooth – they were sharp and hard. Not sharp as in they would cut skin, but sharp as in they would have been great for biscuit cutters – if you wanted a biscuit that large.
They would be padded with a pillow. Not a bed pillow. But one of those pillows that were used on rocking chairs and metal lawn chairs. Pillows that had maybe ¼ inch of foam in them. Pillows that had been in use since before my conception. I was never quite sure what use those pillows were. I think they were a tease. They never managed to soften the top of the cans. The never managed to pad the lip of the can top – the ones that prevented all circulation from the knees down, resulting in much wiggling and groaning and numb feet. But once that plate of food was placed in front of us, life did not get any better.
As each cousin reached the magical age of 12, responsibilities changed. The girls were expected to help out in the kitchen. The boys were expected to help clear the table (if they were caught and forced to help out) and then watch football or head outside to play football or kickball. Those of us at the kids table – we were free agents. We were never expected to help; in fact we were shooed out of the kitchen. We could watch the ballgame, but usually the cloud of smoke would begin to push us outside. Once outside we would run and play and have a great time.
Now, I am sure you are asking why I am boring you with all the details of a very crowded, yet normal event in my life. Well, Thursdays are about what made me the way I am. When I was about 11 our family started to really grow. Some of my cousins were getting married and bringing their spouses. They started having babies. Before long there just was no more room at my grandmother’s house, and she was getting just old enough that she did not need to have to deal with all of us invading her home for a full meal. So we started to alternate where Thanksgiving was hosted. Each “Aunt and Uncle” took a turn at hosting. The food was the same, the fussing over the gravy was unchanged, the football game on the TV was still playing, but suddenly there was no kids table. Everyone filled their plate, buffet style, and headed to one of the folding buffet tables scattered throughout the home of whoever was hosting that year. Children mixed with adults. That magical event – moving to the adult table – that right of passage, was denied to me just as I was on the cusp of what I considered “adulthood”. I know it sounds dorky that I mourn the loss of that opportunity.
Sheila over at To Love, Honor and Vacuum talks about this same topic – the perpetual adolescence that hase become standard in our society. When I got married and Hubby and I started talking about expanding our family I found myself hesitating. I kept waiting for someone to tell me that I had “arrived”, that I was an adult, that I was old enough and mature enough to have children. There are days that I still find myself waiting for that. You would think at 43 I would figure out that I am way old enough! Now, I am not blaming my family for stunting my emotional growth because I was never allowed to sit at the adult table during Thanksgiving Dinner. But I will say that Sheila’s post really initiated analysis of the origins of some of my insecurities – especially those related to my role in my family, both the family I live with daily, and my extended family. It has also made me re-evaluate how I interact with my own children and utz and encourage them towards their own adult path.