I understand now that my mother must have pinched pennies for months when I was growing up in order to create the banquet she did on every Thanksgiving Day. I don't know the different jobs my father did over the years, but the last job he held was as a cook for an offshore rig. Although he spent many a day away from his family, I don't think he was compensated enough for it by the looks of what passed for food in our house most days.
While others ate steak and pork chops, my siblings and I could look forward to things like fish head soup, rooster comb and chicken feet to dine upon. You think I exaggerate but I kid you not. When I say I came from a poor childhood, it isn't to garner sympathy but to seek admiration for what my mother managed to conjure up for us to feast upon during the holidays.
I would go to sleep on Thanksgiving Eve with the knowledge that sometime the following day our dining room table would be groaning under the weight of more food than I would usually see in a week. While the bird stuffed with cornbread dressing slowly roasted in the oven, Mother would set the ingredients for mashed potatoes and corn on the cob to boil. Deviled eggs chilled in the refrigerator along with the pumpkin pie and sometimes a Jello mold of some type. There was a white, shallow-divided bowl holding the green peas and carrots while sweet tea simmered in a silver pitcher. Homemade rolls covered with homemade butter and dirty rice (a Cajun dish where you cooked rice before adding chicken livers, gizzards, hearts, and sometimes crumbled sausage to the mix which darkened the rice and gave it its name) waited on the table to greet us.
Despite my parents problems, holidays were usually a family affair and my father would sit down at the head of the table where he and I would then argue every year over which one of us would get to eat the turkey's tail. I would usually win and thought it a grand conquest to have bested my father out of my favorite part of the bird. After the leftovers were eventually put away and the dishes washed, I would retreat to my bedroom where I would lie around reading while waiting for the aches of an overly stuffed stomach to go away.
Neither of my parents were deeply religious people and there weren't prayers of thanks heard at our table like in other families, but despite my life I still had much to be thankful for while I was growing up in that place I called home.
I had a good companion in my older sister, Janet, who managed to put up with a nagging little sister four years younger without killing her in the process. I had my dog, Penny, who tolerated many games of dress up and my sad attempts to teach her tricks without so much as biting me once. And I had my books. One of the few things my mother approved of, my childhood was filled with wonderful, glorious books of every kind to sometimes act as a buffer between the reality of my life and the worlds of my imagination.
My life growing up might have been challenging but on Thanksgiving Day each year all it boiled down to was a tasty meal and a good story...