Cooking Thanksgiving with Uncle Mike

November 26, 2008 at 9:26 am (Brother John, Family, Friends, Stories, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Cooking Thanksgiving with Uncle Mike

First of all, I’d like to issue a disclaimer. To any family members who were actually AT this Thanksgiving dinner, and actually READ this: I have a somewhat dim recollection of all the events that occurred but I’m going to write about them anyway. This is how I remember it!

It was the first Thanksgiving after Granny died and the whole family was making a special effort to get together for dinner at Granddad’s. My second husband Greg, my son Roger, and I had made the trip in from Indiana to stay at my parents for a nice long visit through the holidays. Rog was only about three and I was still in respiratory school. I volunteered to go over to Granddad’s the evening before to help Granddad shop, get the turkey ready, make the pies, sweet potato casserole, and anything else that could be done ahead of time. My Mom said she would stay home with Rog and then they would all come over early Thanksgiving morning. I was surprised when Uncle Mike said he would come down the night before and help with the cooking, but tickled too.

Uncle Mike has always been a very cool uncle. One year when Brother John got a microscope for Christmas Uncle Mike not only let us stick pins in his fingers a billion times so we could look at blood, he also let us look at skin flakes, boogers, arm hair, and spit. He would babysit us when we were kids. I don’t think we ever got to bed on time when Uncle Mike was there. I can remember being cranked up on soda and candy and jumping up and down on the bed yelling at the top of my lungs just for the sake of the irritating noise of it. Uncle Mike took it like a sport.

Now, by this time I was a grown up married lady and had had my hand up many a turkey’s cavity to fill it with stuffing, but mind you always with my Granny or my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law around for moral support. This would be my first solo run without a matriarch to guide me. But, I was no stranger to cooking and was ready for the task at hand. Sure I was.

I arrived at Granddad’s and after he greeted me with his usual “How are you Sweet Thing?” we settled in at the table to make lists. Or rather I made lists, consulted Granddad, and he read me bits and pieces from the newspaper and showed me the Thanksgiving cards he’d received. God love him, he wanted everything to be just like it was when Granny made Thanksgiving dinner. As he went down the list of food I began to feel the first creeping signs of unease. Surely in past years we hadn’t had all that food? Yes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, corn, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. But did we really have in addition corn bread, deviled eggs, pickled eggs and red beets, three bean chowder, Lima beans, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, stuffing balls, ham, pineapple upside down cake, cookies, apple dumplings, a pickle and olive tray, dips for pretzels and chips, and hot dogs for my son who at that time in his life ate nothing but hot dogs? How did Granny do it? Granddad had lovingly gotten out all of Granny’s recipes and placed them in a (towering) stack for me to look over.

Armed with my list, Granddad picked up his crutches (he’d been injured in an industrial accident several years back and had nearly lost his legs) and we went out to his big salmon colored Cadillac. Talk about a beautiful car. Leather seats as soft as butter. He handed me the keys and we floated our way into town. That car just about drove itself. I was doing 90 before I knew it. Granddad’s hand on the armrest never even tightened its grip, not even when we sort of sailed over a huge bump and I’m sure all four white walled tires left the ground.

Our first stop was the liquor store. I was a little puzzled when Granddad grabbed a shopping cart on the way in. I soon understood as he went down the aisles. “Now, Sweet Thing, get you a bottle of that Scotch you like, and get your Aunt Deb some of that stuff there, I forget what it’s called but that’s the bottle, and your cousin Tim drinks Jack Daniels and Kathy drinks Old Granddad and your dad likes a Seagram’s Seven and seven -up…” and the list went on and on. He knew what everyone from family members to family friends liked to drink and bought it. The bill was more than I took home in a week! I was thinking that all that liquor never took into consideration that most of the men hung out in Granddad’s shed before dinner and drank his homemade plum brandy anyway and smoked their cigarettes and cigars while he sharpened their pocket knives!

I pulled the now loaded Caddy into Granddad’s driveway, just missing the snow-ball bush to the right and the big walnut tree to the left (at least missing the big walnut tree THIS time) and pulled in beside Uncle Mike’s car. We got the groceries unloaded and it was time to cook. I forgot to mention that Granddad had gotten some of the groceries a day or so before I got there. To my consternation I saw that he had gotten real potatoes to make the mashed potatoes. Not the instant I had planned to make, then hide the box, and hope no one noticed. He had also gotten “real” bread cubes, four big bags of them, for the stuffing. No Stove Top, I sighed. Fortunately, Uncle Mike turned out to be a pretty good cook and took everything in stride. We got the turkey washed and the giblets cooked. (Granddad was horrified when I prepared to throw out the neck. No neck? “Why there’s some commin’ that’d soon have the neck as the whole dang turkey,” he said. By this time it was late, and things were moving along very slowly. Uncle Mike got the pumpkin pies in while I was peeling the hard boiled eggs to put in with the pickled beets. New eggs. New eggs that didn’t want to peel. Lots of new eggs that didn’t want to peel. Uncle Mike lent a hand and we made the most pitted and cratered plate of deviled eggs you ever saw. The pickled eggs floated in the dark beet juice looking like I had beat them with a stick. Uncle Mike said, “Tastes good, all that counts.”

Finally, just about everything was prepared. Granddad had long since nodded off at the kitchen table and was finally persuaded to go to bed. I was yawning and Uncle Mike kept saying, one more thing, and then I’ll go home for awhile and see you in the morning. The last thing on the agenda was the making of the stuffing balls. Now our family likes their stuffing done outside the turkey. We use an ice cream scoop to make balls of stuffing that are cooked in pans in the oven. The stuffing comes out crispy on the outside and the inside is moist enough to stick together but no more. Many a heated discussion has revolved around the stuffing balls and whether or not they were the desirable “bone dry” balls. Granny always got it just right. As we started to shake out the bags of bread cubes into the big mixing bowl I noticed what I thought was a piece of blue bread wrapper in the bowl. I picked it out, and then immediately spied another piece. “Uncle Mike,” I cried aghast, “these bread cubes are MOLDY.” Granddad had gotten the stuffing cubes a day or so ago and had put them on top of the refrigerator. The top of the fridge gets warm, the moisture left in the cubes provides a nice growth medium, and there you have it. We just looked at each other, knowing there was no place open (especially in those days) to buy more. Granddad only had a few slices of bread left in his loaf. So, we started picking mold off the cubes. Uncle Mike said, “penicillin won’t hurt you, right?” Now I’m thinking that that’s not the only kind of mold that can grow on bread, and some people are allergic to penicillin anyway. But, Thanksgiving dinner and no stuffing balls? There would be mutiny. So, until two A.M. I picked and pored over the bread cubes. Finally we made the stuffing balls, ready to pop in the oven come morning. We stored them in the fridge to retard further growth. Uncle Mike left for home and a few hours sleep and I poured myself a hefty Scotch, shed a few tears in the dishwater as I cleaned up, and started getting out the “good” dishes, serving spoons, extra silverware, and coffee cups.

Thanksgiving day dawned. I know it dawned because I saw it. I had gotten as far as putting on my pajamas after Uncle Mike left, but that was as close to beddy-bye as I got. As I watched the sun come up into a clear sky that promised a crisp perfect day I gave thanks that I was blessed with such a large loving family. I also prayed that no one would get sick from the meal, that I would manage to be awake for over 24 hours without becoming a demented shrew, and that Granny would forgive me my many trespasses in the preparation of the family meal.

My mom, dad, husband and son were the first to arrive, followed quickly by pretty much the world. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, second cousins, neighbors, friends, all were welcomed. Everywhere I looked I saw mouths filled with food. The kids were running around the table snatching an olive or pickle here, a cookie or some chips there. And then, it was the moment of truth. The turkey came out of the oven at the right moment and was done to perfection. The mashed potatoes I had delegated to mom with a certain amount of desperation. I had peeled them, I had cooked cooked them, and then she did all sorts of mysterious things with warm milk and butter and came up with smooth mounds of creamy goodness. I made Uncle Mike take the stuffing balls from the oven and pass them around to the ohhs and ahhs of anticipated satisfaction. The balls were lightly browned, pleasing to the eye. They smelled heavenly and I saw that most people took at least two. My dad took the first bite as I bit my tongue and he pronounced, “Bone dry.” The highest compliment. I felt my face turn as red as the pickled beets and I choked back the laughter that was holding hands with the urge to tell on myself. Mom patted my shoulder, “She’s shy.” I felt my face grow redder and added to myself, “and possibly a murderer.” I coughed and mom said, “I hope you’re not coming down with something.” Uncle Mike passed me a stuffing ball. “Here, fix you right up.” (Brother John here… ah yes… and I’m sure he said it with a twinkle in his eye… So much humor and irony expressed with so few words!)

I watched closely for the remainder of the day but no one’s throat swelled up forcing me to do an emergency tracheotomy with the pen Uncle Dave had given me that said, “From the desk of Dave Reed.” One of my second cousins DID throw up but I think that was due more to the entire box of chocolate covered cherries she had eated when no one was watching. By mid afternoon Granddad had run out of chairs and sofa’s for uncle’s to sleep on. Uncle Mike was stretched out on the lining room floor in front of the football game on TV. The snores were so loud and varied that we women giggled from the kitchen as we gossiped and washed dishes. There were no left over stuffing balls. My mom hugged me and said , “Granny would be proud of you.”

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Dreams

October 25, 2008 at 1:58 am (Dogs, GOD, Pets, Religious, Stories) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

The Dream.

I have a couple of recurring dreams that have been with me for a while. The first dream I started having when I was still in college. This is a dream that has grown in detail over the years. It’s of a huge old house. When I first enter it, it’s abandoned, dusty, musty, yet somehow ALIVE. It wants me there, but waits to see what I do. I’m frightened, but as I walk around a bit I notice all the old wood in the stair banisters and wainscoting, the grime coated chandeliers in the foyer, dining room and ball room that are miraculously intact, as is the stained glass rose window in the library, the library itself with shelf after shelf of books that are dirty but , thank God, not mildewed. Being me, I start cleaning. I scrub, polish, wax, buff, wash, dust, sweep, shine, sort, and rearrange a different part of the house each time I dream, discovering old lamps and sofas, trunks of long outdated clothes and antique curios. Every time I think, “Now wouldn’t it be cool if there was one of THOSE,” I find one. I’ve wished into existence Victorian lamps, marbled floors, first edition favorite children’s books, and our grandfather’s auto harp. So far I haven’t had to clean any room twice, I think my head just keeps adding on more rooms. But, as I get to the upper floors, the decay seems to be worse. The last time I dreamed of the house I saw that the attic had holes in the roof in places and the floor was rotted in others. I thought, “I don’t know how to fix that, maybe Sammy can help me, I’ll leave that part for last. “ Once I dreamed I found the music room and spent the night polishing, restringing, and tuning instruments. I woke the next morning with a sweet little tune I found on the grand piano music stand going through my head. Sometimes I have a faint sense of people there, and once a young translucent woman followed me around pantomiming placing objects in places she either remembered them being or thought they ought to be.

The second dream is of the meadow. After my first husband Roger died everyone in the family kept saying he came to see them in dreams. “Oh Roger came and talked to me.” “Roger told me he missed me in my dream.” I was so upset, that everyone was getting to see him but ME. And I was the one who wanted him so desperately, just a little more time. I would go to bed at sunset, just as soon as I could get the baby to sleep, and hope to dream. But it was months and he never came. Then one night I dreamed I was on a back country road. I was also on one of those little scooters from gym class that you power by twisting the handlebars from side to side. I had to drive this little scooter up and down hills and past fields of corn, alfalfa, and soybean. Finally as I crested a hill I saw a raised ranch style brick house. I parked my scooter by the door and went in without knocking. I was in a kitchen. And not just a kitchen, an Italian grandma’s kitchen. There was a huge pot (like my canning kettle on steroids) of red sauce simmering on the stove and a warm loaf of bread beside it. I broke off a chunk of bread, dipped a big scoop of sauce up with it, and stuffed it in my mouth. The sauce was thick and tangy, the bread crusty on the outside and heavy and chewy on the inside. The Grandma was sitting at a white metal kitchen table with flour up to her arms, kneading another loaf. I went to help her and she motioned rather vigorously for me to go downstairs, flinging flour off her hands and swinging the loose fat that hung under her arms.

As I went downstairs I heard the sound of billiard balls clacking and smelled cigar smoke. The basement was full of Italian men smoking cigars and shooting pool. They spoke and argued in Italian and one young man winked at me. One of the old men slapped him on the side of the head and said, “Nadda for you.” Then the old man jerked his head toward a partitioned room that had a curtain for a door. I ducked my head inside and found myself in a bathroom. “A bathroom?” I thought, aware at this point that I was dreaming. Then I noticed a door in the side of the room that was open a few inches. It was a narrow door, like a linen closet. I opened it, thinking to find another roll of toilet paper to put out since there was none left (you know how those Italian uncles are), and I kept going further into the dark space. I saw a little crack of light ahead of me, and as I reached for what I thought was another door I felt a shove to my back and stumbled across the threshold.

I found myself blinking in the bright sunlight of a beautiful meadow. A creek sidewindered its way across my field of vision. There was an old tree that had uprooted to hang over the creek. Uprooted but still alive and growing its branches nearly reached the water. The meadow sloped upward to a point where I could no longer see. I looked around, and then a speck of movement at the top of the meadow caught my eye. It was a person walking toward me. Long before I could see his face I recognized the lanky stride as my Roger. “Here you are,” I thought. “I’ve been waiting.” He came to me, and I knew I couldn’t touch him, I knew he was dead, but in that meadow we sat in the grass by the creek and I told him all about little Roger, and me, and life that kept barreling ahead and rolling me with it. And I was comforted.

Since then, I’ve revisited that meadow in my dreams several times. I always come to it in the same way. Roger is always there, always looking the same age as when he left us. But he knows I remarried, and was again widowed, and remarried again. He knows Rog works two jobs and goes to college. The last time I had the dream he had our dog Pickett with him, even though Pickett came into my life years after Roger had left it. He stood with one hand on the tree over the creek and one hand ruffling Pickett’s fur and Pickett was smiling with his tongue hanging out.

I’ve met others in the meadow. Greg stood once near the top, in the distance. He wouldn’t come down to me, but he sent Jack running down to race in circles around me, barking furiously. Once, I think I met GOD. He was fishing in the deep pool in the creek that had formed under the fallen tree and I sat beside him and he offered me those orange peanut butter crackers. I think it was GOD because there was such a huge sense of comfort, humor, understanding, and peace. I’m always glad to see that the heaven my subconscious creates includes my pets.

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