Ah, the Norman Rockwell feast, "Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House!". Only, during Thanksgiving week, we kids would try to sneak over the river on the 4th Street bridge, and try to get past Grandma's house without detection. But, it was no use, Grandma knew when we got off of school, and would be waiting there to holler out the screen door as we snuck by, for us to come and "visit" her.
Oh, yeah, Grandma, like we don't know what you're up to. Having time off of school around Thanksgiving meant only one thing: Free slave labor for Grandma. The Holiday Season brought all kinds of new, wonderful "little jobs" Grandma would have lined up for us kids:
Bringing up the turkey from the "cold room". There was not much refrigeration at Grandma's. The refrigerator upstairs was always full, so that was no help. The refrigerator in the basement had Grandpa's beer in it, and he'd have to take that out so we could crowd things in there, things like the ring molds. There was always some Jello mixed with cabbage, lots of cabbage. But then once the basement refrigerator was full, there was only the "cold room" - a basement room built under the garage, and it was somewhat cold in there, but surely would not meet modern standards of food hygiene. And yet none of us got sick, accidentally, that is. The "cold room" was where refrigerator surplus and leftovers were stored, including things we didn't want to ask about, such as a pig head peeking out from a towel in a roasting pan.
The turkey would start thawing on Monday, so by Tuesday night Grandma could make the dressing, with our help. The inside of the turkey had to be picked clean of the greasy little boogery things that clung in there. From the inside of the turkey we'd extract the giblets - neck, gizzard, heart, and liver, a slimy wax paper packet that had to be run through a cast-iron grinder, for the dressing, as they called the turkey stuffing. It made a ripping noise as it passed through the grinder, a sound that a foley artist would welcome into his library for his next horror film. The same sound your finger would make if you cranked it through the grinder. The smell was overpowering, and the ground-up guts formed a quivering pile of . . . well. ... guts - a stinking miasma that had to be scraped up and plopped into the mixing bowl. Then the onions and celery. Nothing like having the greasy guts slime on your hands, and then peeling onions and grinding them. So, your eyes were watering but you sure didn't want to touch them, not until a few weeks from now. And then some dried bread crumbs, and don't get them all over! I broke off the moldy parts before putting them in the grinder. Finally, "the dressing" was done. The whole slimy mess mixed in a huge crock mixing bowl. Whew! We're done! Guess again!
Now the iron grinder has to be taken apart and washed. The grinding process stuffs all the guts and onions into the remotest corners of each and every cast-iron part. So, scraping off what I could, I'd put the rest in the sink. Greasy pans and utensils stacked high on both sides of the sink. The water was cold, and there was stuff floating on top of it in a cold greasy slick. And, I dassn't change the water for some nice hot soapy water - Grandma was watching, and you know how kids like to waste water!. The dishrag and scouring pad were both encrusted with the same slime that covered the grinder. How was I to get this clean? More soap!
By "soap", Grandma meant a bar of homemade lye soap that Aunt Meta had made. The whole extended family saved all their cooking grease in coffee cans for Aunt Meta. Meta would render the grease into soap, and sell it back to the family members. Well, hooray for the planet, for recycling, for a sense of family community, for homemade knowhow passed on from generation to generation. But there is one truth that must be faced: The lye soap didn't work that well, and only made the cold greasy mess more sliimy -- if that were possible.
And finally, St. Beverly the Liberator arrived! The front doorbell rang, and in breezed Aunt Bev, or Aunt Bumpie as she was called back in the days when she married her sailor. She had been married a few years now, and the two of them had a kid, a mere toddler who, fortunately for him, couldn't reach the sink. Your day is coming, Bobby Boy!
Well, Aunt Bumpy walked over to the sink, and said. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" "He just started," Grandma snapped. "BUT THAT WATER IS SO DIRTY, AND I BET IT ISN'T EVEN HOT ANYMORE!"
Aunt Bumpy could do anything she wanted to do in her mother's house. She was Grandpa's little girl, and she always got her way. Aunt Bumpy made me drain the sink and start over with hot, soapy water! Real soap! Thrill Dish Liquid! And the hot water was so -- pure and cleansing. Bless you, Aunt Bumpy, wherever you are! Thanks for the Thrill!
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
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