Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Thanksgiving

1870 ThanksgivingThanksgiving holidays started at school when I was growing up in Youngstown.  I remember one year where we took a field trip to a turkey farm where we saw the real thing before it ended up on our dinner table. Then there were the history lessons on the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving complete with the essays on the meaning of Thanksgiving. It seems we always had some kind of school assembly with a play enacting Thanksgiving as well as singing Thanksgiving songs (“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…”–didn’t seem like we ran into any church-state problems with that one back then). Most important though was that we got out of school for a long weekend full of good food and football!

Thanksgiving morning began with turning on the TV to watch the Macy’s Parade and all the huge floats of Superman and Snoopy making their way down Fifth Avenue in New York. Then some years while my grandparents were still living, we’d load up the car and head over to their place where my grandmother was preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Eventually, after my grandmother passed, that moved to our home.

While we were watching the parades, we’d begin to notice the home being filled with the most wondrous smells of the turkey and stuffing roasting (homemade of course!).  There was giblet gravy and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and my mom’s favorite cranberry relish recipe served over some lettuce (I wish we had remembered to get that from her!). Snacks were set out, usually nut dishes and other candies with the admonition not to eat any until our guests arrived–we always managed to filch some! Of course pies were baked (or sometimes bought) the day or so before. There was always pumpkin pie and often mincemeat pie as well.

Finally, we were all called to the dinner table when it seemed we could no longer stand it and our stomachs were growling. Dad had done the honors of carving up the bird. After a blessing, it seems we spent the next ten minutes passing food until our plates were filled. When we were young, it seems like my brother and I always got the drumsticks. It was later on that we found out there were better parts of the bird. And there was my mom’s stuffing–which to this day is the mark against which I measure all others. A silence would descend on the table as everyone laid into the feast. You could tell when we were starting to get full because that was when the conversation picked up!

Sometimes we wouldn’t get to the pies until later. After dinner, the guys would adjourn to the living room (after telling mom what a tremendous dinner she’d made) to sit in a tryptophan stupor watching Thanksgiving Day football. I know some families would get out for a game of football. In our neighborhood, it would have to be on the street, which us kids did sometimes, but not usually on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile the women would be in the kitchen cleaning up and talking, probably about why didn’t the guys help with this! Back then, gender roles were pretty traditional and it was only in later years that the guys would realize, “maybe we ought to do the clean-up.” Seems that the main contribution men would make to the dinner back then was to carve the bird. (One wonders if there is a bird-carving gene on the Y chromosome!).

Thanksgiving really kicked off Christmas shopping season back then. Now it seems that you find Christmas decorations in stores from Halloween on. As a paperboy, this meant extra heavy newspapers, especially on Sundays with all those ads. Often the weekend after Thanksgiving was when dad put up the outside Christmas lights. Usually around this time the Sears-Roebuck Christmas catalog came and you started plotting your “wish-list” for Christmas. And it seems there was football on all weekend with key college rivalries like OSU-Michigan and NFL games. Meanwhile we feasted into those leftovers of turkey sandwiches, dressing, and left over pie. If you were lucky, you didn’t have to cook for the rest of the weekend.

What were your memories of Thanksgiving? Favorite foods?


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