Thanksgiving grocery shopping, like all my mother’s grocery expeditions, was driven by a battle plan that George Patton would have admired. She scanned the Alliance Review Persky’s Market, Kroger, and A&P ads for the best deals. On Saturday morning, my siblings and I tagged along into battle as her foot soldiers with hopes of sugary treats finding their way into the shopping cart.
Thanksgiving in the Bilcze home was about the aromas. The pre-game started on Wednesday night with pumpkin pies baking in the oven. My mother prepared the turkey and dressing early Thanksgiving morning. She was a turkey stuffer. Our small brick ranch was filled with the unmistakable aroma of baked turkey. I was glued to the TV and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a spectacle that brought the excitement and enormity of NYC into our small midwestern living room.
Dressing, stuffing, or whatever you call it, my mother’s was an all-star winner. I am not sure of its origin, perhaps her Swiss or my father’s Hungarian roots. It closely resembles Ohio Amish recipes with carrots celery, onions, mushroom soup, and eggs. I carry on this recipe in my Thanksgiving meal.
Thanksgiving Day was a day of rest for my father except for our Thanksgiving meal. He was an outstanding cook, most likely from his background as a US Army cook in WW2. He enjoyed his role as mom’s sous chef. He always peeled potatoes and cleaned vegetables. Potatoes and meat were present in most meals in those days before today’s dietary and health-conscious lives.
Jellied Ocean Spray cranberry sauce graced the table. Opening and plopping that ruby red roll of Thanksgiving in a can was one of my or my siblings’ job. My parents were gifted for their wedding a complete set of Cambridge Crystal that gathered dust on our china cabinet. The crystal cranberry dish was taken from its sacred place in the cabinet to hold the slices of cranberry goodness on the table.
Gathering the family for Thanksgiving was a tradition. I remember my pre-school years when the family gathered in the backroom of Jokie’s Café. I suppose this tradition ended when my grandfather died, and the family moved away or began family traditions of their own. Thanksgiving of my youth started with a 3-mile ride to my grandparent’s house on Alliance’s east end to pick up my grandmother Bilcze. She spent the day with us, as she did every Sunday.
Thanksgiving Day ended with a fire in our fireplace and my father watching the Bears and Lions game with everyone else in a food coma. Leftover turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie came out of the fridge for a final appearance at supper. The day ended taking my grandmother home with a detour through downtown Alliance. The streets were festooned with lights and garlands. The storefronts were overflowing with Christmas cheer. It was a magical sight from the frosty windows of the Plymouth.
Thanksgiving 2020 may be the most unique of my 66 Thanksgivings. It is easy to complain about the things with long traditions that are missing, limited, or changed due to the pandemic. This is a year to reflect on what Thanksgiving is about. It is not about the aroma of turkey and all the fixings that shout Thanksgiving. It is a day to give thanks. I am thankful for my health and the health of my family and friends. I am thankful that the world is moving ahead with the promise of a virus vaccine in the coming months. I am thankful for waking every day and making the most of my day.
Banner image “Balloon handlers with Fred Flintstone in the Thanksgiving Parade” by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar is licensed under CC BY 2.0