Can one still purchase a Nesco? Are Nescoes manufactured, or do they come into existence through some special Divine act of transubstantiation? The Nesco is a semi-portable free-standing electric roasting oven. So powerful, it will inevitably blow a fuse and plunge the entire house in darkness. In our extended family, at least, the Nesco was by far the most revered and coveted family item. Whenever the old Angel of Death would flap his wings over our family, the Holy Succession of the Nesco was set in motion. Ordained and strictly enforced by Aunt Meta. As the soul rises gently to the afterlife, the Nesco descends majestically to the appointed successor. Thus Meta hath declared and so shall it be!
The smells of thanksgiving - a turkey roasting in the Nesco in the basement. The smell of the basement room under the garage - cold, damp concrete, drafty windows, lead paint, linseed oil and turpentine, the fragrance of the usual basement activities. And in the air, the holy incense of Grandpa's cheap cigars. My grandpa's basement - his kingdom.
From the time the stuffed bird was placed in the Nesco (usually about 5:00 am), Grandpa would have to baste the turkey every half hour until it was done, else it would get dry, Thanksgiving would be ruined, and that would be his fault. So, Grandpa kept the lonely watch. Grandma would preside by periodically yelling down the stairs. "Lionel, did you baste it?" It was very easy to lose track of time in the basement, so many more important things to be done, sorting paint brushes, sweeping floors, smoking White Owl cigars, and drinking beer, conveniently stored in the Kelvinator of the basement kitchen. "Lionel - all the lights went out again! Fix the fuse!"
The last hours of basting would always be the best. A cloud of fragrant steam would fill the room each time we opened the hatch. And from the hot hissing cauldron, some little crackly bit of turkey skin, or a wing tip would inevitably fall off, and would have to be eaten, isn't it unfortunate how these things happen? When the bird was done, Grandpa would load it onto a huge platter and start whacking away at it with a butcher knife. The Nesco pan would go on the gas range in the basement kitchen. Grandma would come down to the basement and make gravy.
Meanwhile up in the house Family Thanksgiving traditions were in full swing. Grandma, Aunt Bumpy and my mother getting into each other's way in the kitchen, whipping cream, mashing potatoes. My brothers and sisters and Aunt Bumpy's kids clomping incessantly up and down the stairs. There was always some board game thing going on in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Aunt Bumpy's nasty little dog, Gidget - Little Gidgie could never quit barking, and the kids would just encourage her by throwing things for her to fetch.
The table loaded with mashed potatoes, gravy, platters of turkey, mounds of squash, cranberries, bowls of stuffing and gravy, stacks of Brown 'n' Serve dinner rolls, and the Ring Mold - a ring of Jello impregnated with floating bits of raw cabbage and carrots. And then, clear off the plates and bring out the pie plates! Pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and mincemeat pie with its cloying sweetness.
After dinner, we'd all pitch in doing the dishes. The older kids would carry plates of leftovers to the cold basement room under the attached garage, covered with dish towels placed on the newspapers Grandpa had arranged on top of the paint cabinets.
Somehow by the end of the dishes, Aunt Bumpy would already have a card game going on the dining room table. nickels accumulating in front of Aunt Bumpy, although sometimes my Grandma was pretty sharp at that game, too. They'd play either Sheepshead, or a simple rummy game called "31". Drop another nickel in the pot.
In the living room, the men would fall asleep in chairs, football blaring away on the black and white Motorola TV - a console floor model. Kids would stomp back up the stairs to their board games.
Back down in the basement - that's was where real the activity was. Grandpa would fire up the phonograph with some polka music, and we'd take the roasting pan into the wash machine room, and place it in the stone laundry sink. Ist das nicht ein Schnitzelbank? Ja, das ist ein Schnitzelbank! We had the usual dishrags, SOS pads, scrubbing brushes. In addition we had all the secret weapons from the paint closet - scrapers, wire brushes, and industrial grade steel wool. It took hours, but we didn't care because we loved working in the basement, cleaning the Nesco pan, and the outside housing of the Nesco, and all the various greasiness.
Sometimes during the basement operations, we'd have to stop for a short trip to check on things in the cold room. Pulling up a corner of the linen towels, Grandpa and I would pick up little bits of stuffing, and chunks of leftover turkey. My grandpa could never get enough of that white meat. With a conspiratorial wink, we'd just grab it with our fingers - who needs forks - we're in the Basement! And cold stuffing is so much better than the hot. What happens in Grandpa's basement, stays in Grandpa's basement!