Granddaddy rarely called on the telephone. He was deaf in the ear he liked to listen with – and never got the hang of being left-eared. The check-sized envelope with his vertical scrawl of lines and “u”s in cursive from the 1910’s was addressed to me. The letter inside told of how he and my mother were going to drive the 5 hours to visit us Thanksgiving morning and we’d all go out to dinner in a restaurant. Grandma had passed the year before, and none of us had wanted to talk about Thanksgiving plans for this year. I don’t think any of us wanted to celebrate much of anything. My mother showed up Turkey day eve with 100 bucks from my Grandfather and his best wishes. He opted to stay home and visit friends for the holiday. We were all floundering without Grandma – she had driven all the holiday celebrations and kept all the traditions. She’d never let us help, so we had no idea how she did it.
The Piggly Wiggly was a small grocery store – slightly larger than a curb market – had the old town market feel. The huge name-brand-chain grocery store across town had opened up last year and nearly put the poor Piggly out of business. Now the only customers it got were the local starving college students grabbing beer or a pack of cigarettes. Mom was all about the “local flavour” of places and hated large plastic chain stores, so she begged to go the Pig – “We can save a LOT of money if we go buy the stuff and cook it ourselves!!” She bounced around the living room like a little bird on speed – thankfully she was manic today and not depressed – except we didn’t have a dining room table and my pots and pans consisted of one pan for Ramen noodles and one pan for grilled cheese sandwiches. But her manic moods didn’t go well with public places, and keeping her contained was easier if we cooked at home, so off to the Pig we went.
If the name didn’t give it away, this market was the southern version of Farm to Table before it was trendy – local meats and produce and dairy. The only thing shipped in was the canned stuff and anything that couldn’t be made or grown locally. The ethnic section was where they kept the creole/cajun foods. The meat counter had fresh steaks and hamburgers while a bin in front of it had bags of neck bones and ox tails and chicken’s feet. At the end of the bin was one lonely 12 lb turkey, frozen solid and priced to sell at 50% off. A whole goose, wrapped in cheesecloth and netting, straight out of a Dicken’s book, hung from a hook on the ceiling over it. Taped over the bin on the glass behind the turkey was a torn sales-paper coupon for a free turkey with a purchase of 25 dollars or something (It was 1989 – 25 bucks was a TON of money in North Mississippi) Since there was only one turkey left and it expired in 5 hours, we decided the coupon and the turkey were both ours and into the basket the lil Tom Turkey went.
When Mom was manic she was a different person – full of energy and ideas and fun and almost friendship. I’d seem the same joy the christmas she made the walnut angel for our sad little tree almost two decades ago – She became this person when the odds were against us – when the deck was stacked – The little engine that could – and sometimes I’d hear her muttering under her breath “I think I can I think I can I know I can I know I can I knew I could I knew I could” The little Engine that Could. In her manics she was my sister not my mother – and it was like we were the same age. It didn’t help that her parents, my grandparents who I loved so well, treated us like siblings.
Off to the produce aisle – fresh parsley, celery, bell peppers, onion, garlic, an apple, an orange, a couple russet potatoes and zoom off to the canned aisle – canned yams, bag of marshmallows, french cut string beans, can of cream of mushroom soup, can of french’s french fried onions, box of Stove Top stuffing, and a pack of McCormick Turkey Gravy then to dairy – block of cheddar cheese, gallon of whole milk, 4 boxes store brand margarine – no Fleischmanns here but we made do. Finally, a box of Lipton tea bags and a 2 lb bag of sugar. On the way to the checkout, she grabbed a selection of disposable baking pans, paper plates, plastic utensils and a large plastic table cloth. At this point, who was I to argue with anything. I was amazed at this woman – who was she and what had she done with the woman I grew up with? We came in well under our target of $100 – well enough that mom could pick up a 12 pack of cheap beer – which would be gone in a few hours. I’m not sure where in her 5 foot 98 lb frame she put all the beer, but the woman could hold her beer better than a working man on bowling night. We paid for it all and made our way home.
While we were gone, My first husband and one of our roommates had taken a bedroom door off the hinges and set it up on saw horses in the middle of the living room – and the first thing mom did was throw the plastic tablecloth over it and started unpacking the groceries. We had 12 hours – a frozen turkey – two packs of cheap cigarettes and a 12 pack of beer. Cold water soaks thawed the turkey, while a friend showed up with his usual offerings, Domino’s Pizza and a half-gallon of Seagram’s Gin with a 2-liter bottle of Fresca and another trip was made for more beer. We stayed up all night thawing the turkey, chopping veggies and putting things together in disposable aluminum pans. Everything fit nicely in the fridge – as we were starving college students – and we kept the booze in the freezer and the beer in the cooler on the back porch.
We cooked the turkey while the parades were on TV – and set it on the stove-top to cool for an hour. I carved the turkey that year with a dull steak knife – remembering my home ec classes from when I was 14 on how to cut up a chicken. Mom hovered around me offering what she assumed was helpful advice and nearly getting a finger sliced several times. In the end, only the turkey meat was separated from turkey bone, the sides were cooked and Thanksgiving dinner was served at kick-off for the Egg Bowl. We sat down around the bedroom door-table. My first turkey dinner – it was traditional – it was cooked – but it was horrible. I’m not sure how you mess up canned string beans…but we managed. We put the frozen Piggly Wiggly brand Pecan pie and pumpkin pie in the oven while we ate. They cooled while we cleaned up – there were no left overs and no dishes to wash!!! Thanks Mom!
She stayed that night, then went home the next morning. There’s a lot more to the story – to the memory – but for now, I got this much out. I think this whole week I’ll devote to Turkey Day stories. I’m using my blog entries for #NaNoWriMo now so I’ll be writing a lot more. Tomorrow’s entry? He won a free turkey – or – How to kill, clean, dress, and cook a live turkey on thanksgiving morning in your friend’s front yard WITH parental supervision(I was nine for crap’s sake!)