Column: Thanksgiving, a time to remember

James Bornemeier
James Bornemeier

I said these words last year: I don’t need to have another traditional roasted turkey dinner on Thanksgiving for the rest of my life.

As I recall, this was not the fault of the preparers or the circumstances of last year’s feed (I should know these things yet it all blurs), but simply a feeling that this particular holiday paradigm had run its course.

Now I’m not so sure. I find a glimmering of a hankering to sit down with the same old spread and just dig in.
Like many of us, for me the Thanksgiving ritual is a deeply encased set of memories. As a kid in the suburban Midwest, our T-day meal was straight out of that Rockwell painting. The Heitzes would come over with their three kids and the dads would sport bow ties and the moms would do their thing as if on autopilot.

The menu was pretty classic. Turkey (there was dark meat back then that only the adults would touch), mashed potatoes, real gravy (in boats), both regular and jellied cranberry sauce, dressing (sometimes oyster) and green beans with slivered almonds or, in good years, those fried onion rings that came in a can. We kids, all pals and properly dressed up, thought this was the most splendid meal and occasion, having some spiritual component that we had no possible way of actually comprehending.

I, more than most of the kids, jumped into the post-dinner cleanup, a tendency that has endeared me to all manner of womenfolk over the years. Would I rather be known for my sizzling intellect and rapier wit? Well of course, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt.

A few years later, the Bornemeier/Heitz congregation began to fall apart and we soldiered on as our own little foursome of a family. By high school, my brother had gone big time into football, playing both sides of the ball, center and linebacker. This was his starkly taciturn period during which I was invisible to him, unless he needed me to practice his long snaps, wordless sessions of utter gravity.

Like many high schools, Thanksgiving was the day for the annual football game against your arch rival, in our case the Kirkwood Pioneers (us) versus the Webster Groves Statesmen (them). This put significant urgency into the day, depending on how the Pioneers fared. My brother was not a good loser so some of the looseness of the holiday could dissipate if the boys fell to the Statesmen.

And in those days, before fleeces and good winter shoes, we were frozen by halftime, dying to get back home to attend to the feast, giving a wide berth to my brother, depending on the game’s outcome.

Once we went off to college, Thanksgiving took on more of a reunion feel, although the menu was pretty much etched in stone. Post-college, there were all manner of Thanksgivings all over the place as my brother and I began weaving our lives. Then marriages occurred, in-laws came on board and semi-traditions solidified. There were Cape Cod Thanksgivings and Connecticut Thanksgivings and Manhattan Thanksgivings. There was the time the oven failed and we had to outsource the roasting to a neighbor. The time we did three turkeys — roasted, barbecued and deep fried. You know, they all tasted just about the same.

These days the grandkids and cousins add a whole other dimension to the get-togethers and you stop and think of the memories being built inside their pristine little craniums.

As is typical these days of little kids, the exact layout of the Thanksgiving event is a work in progress. What is known is that on the day after Thanksgiving, we take the Cross Sound Ferry to New London and make our way to Cape Cod to see my 102-year-old mother. She has arranged for the three of us to have lunch on Saturday in her room in the nursing home.

I doubt that any jellied cranberry sauce with be forthcoming, but I’d die for some green beans with slivered almonds and those canned onion rings.