Thanksgiving in our family has always been like a church potluck cooked all by my grandmother with maybe the exception of my mom helping with the potato salad, cole slaw and the deviled eggs and also providing an extra oven in which to cook the ham, all of this following my grandmother’s instructions, of course. I just want to lay out the menu for you. Now mind you, this menu has been the same (with maybe the addition of a broccoli casserole in recent years and the English peas being optional) for as long as I can remember. Here it is:

Turkey, Ham, cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, corn, lima beans, black-eyed peas or purple-hull peas, English/sweet peas, candied yams, cole slaw, potato salad (with and w/o relish), deviled eggs (with and w/o relish), watergate salad, brown-n-serve rolls, cranberry sauce, and the recent broccoli casserole. Dessert consists of assorted homemade cookies, homemade candies, blueberry pie, lemon icebox pie, apple pie, sweet potato pie and banana pudding. My aunt usually brings the ice tea, which she makes in what i guess are gallon-sized dill pickle jars. I think my aunt is also responsible for the banana pudding.

Now a little more about the food before I move on to Thanksgiving family politics. I think my grandmother’s cornbread dressing sets the standard. If we had nothing else, I would be happy with just the dressing–gravy not required. She makes her dressing in a dish pan…yes, a big dish pan….and she claims that you must use the broth from your turkey or it won’t be any good. (BTW, there is no sage in my grandmother’s dressing and of course, and this almost goes without saying, the cornbread must be homemade–jiffy mix is for the birds and for Yankees. It’s like iced tea that isn’t brewed–you gotta be kidding me! Yes, I’m a tea snob. I’m also a fried catfish snob, but that is for another discussion.) I am so spoiled by her dressing that I will usually not order dressing at any restaurant because I’m never sure what I’m gonna get–kinda like meatloaf. Anyways, one year my grandmother was sick on Thanksgiving and the rest of us were stuck trying to pull things together that day. Well, so many people kept going to her and asking if the dressing was done, that she finally got out of her sick bed and fussing, came into the kitchen claiming, “one day I’ll be gone and won’t nobody in this family be able to fix anything!” As a matter of fact, she told me the same thing just yesterday.

Moving on from the dressing to the giblet (pronounced jib-let) gravy. If you don’t already know what giblets are, then it’s best that you just eat it and not ask any questions. I was probably in college when I found out that my grandmother added yellow food coloring to her giblet gravy. And how did I discover this? Well, apparently my mom and uncle were causing some sort of playful disturbance in the kitchen and my grandmother, being distracted, accidentally put red food coloring in. She was livid. Of course, it went on the table. You can’t not have giblet gravy…the planets would fall out of orbit. People were saying, “what is this? Soup?” JUST EAT IT! It’s Dianne and Ronald’s fault!! Some people ate it. Some didn’t. It was a difficult time.

A few other things about the food. The lima beans and peas are always fresh. The corn will clog your arteries. It consists of whole kernel corn, creamed corn, saltine crackers and enough butter to make Paula Deen’s eyes pop out. It sure is yummy, though!

Now, in the past, all of this food was set in serving bowls on the “big table” (more about that in the politics section). There would usually be some overflow to the tops of deep freezers that were near the table, with one deep freezer being solely for the desserts. And, by the way, the china in the china cabinet came out for this meal, along with the lace tablecloth. Now this part is all past tense, because for the past several years, this meal has taken place at my mother’s house. It’s the same meal, only with paper plates, buffet style, borrowed tables from the church, and less politics (see below).

Now for the politics. My grandmother has a dining room with a table that used to seat six, but now seats eight. This is the “big” table or the adult table. There’s another table off the kitchen that seats six which is the “kid” table. The big table is further designated the “first” table and the “second” table. The first table was always occupied by those in the family who were somehow deemed worthy to be at the first table. This seating arrangement was pretty much written in blood, and words would be said if any changes were attempted. The second seating was occupied by those who, after they washed the dishes from the first seating, were finally allowed to eat. I was always at the kid’s table, where the discussion every year always included how someone would have to die before we would be allowed to move up to the big table. Now, of course, things always change…the family changes….but old habits die hard. The year I got engaged, I brought Mike home for Thanksgiving to meet the family. My grandmother was so excited that she sat us at the “first table”. I think there were some tears (not by me), some hard feelings, and frankly Mike was quite frightened and thought it best not to speak unless spoken to first. My grandmother had to put her foot down and establish her authority: “It’s my table! I’ll do what I want!”

So, there you have it..Thanksgiving with my family. There have been people that have shown up for this meal that I don’t even know. And here’s the best part, about four weeks after Thanksgiving, every bit of this was usually repeated for Christmas. However, the kids had to wait until all the dishes were washed and placed back in the china cabinet and the food put away before we could open presents. I learned at any early age that it was in my best interest to help clean up.

I now live several hundred miles from home and we don’t usually go home for Thanksgiving. So what will we do this year? Cracker Barrel……I may even try their dressing…who knows!