Archive for Wednesday, November 24, 1999

First you put the turkey in the skillet

November 24, 1999

Your children in the Tonganoxie first-grade classes who were asked for help this week had some ready hints on how to cook a turkey.

I don't know what image comes to you when you think of a Thanksgiving turkey ready to slice and send to the dining room table, but to me, the Oskaloosa memories always flow in.

My grandmother lived in a tall old house right on the highway that ribbons its way through Oskaloosa. The bay-windowed, shuttered house was just about as homey a place as a home could be, with my grandfather's clock chiming the hours on the mantle, the spicy-scented kitchen cupboard that housed the ever-filled cookie jar, the red-checked linoleum kitchen floor and the old soft couch on which we nearly sank to our ankles when we plopped on the cushions. There was a feeling of the past there, that we somehow, at least during those hours, were living a part of history. Even then, it seemed that Grandma's house was always a step or two behind the times.

Come Thanksgiving Day, we would stuff ourselves silly with all the trimmings, then would head outside to play in a barn across the road, or to chase the chickens in the pen beyond the house. After that, Dad and Uncle Rob would take all of us on a walking tour of Oskaloosa. You would have thought we were tourists at Disney World, the way we oohed and aahed at the houses they grew up in, at the old town square where my grandfather had his office, at the church where Grandma rolled pie crust dough into communion wafers. How we loved those walks in the little old town where my father had started working as a paper carrier for the Oskaloosa Independent and had put himself through high school on his meager salary.

We remembered the old courthouse that sat in the middle of the Oskaloosa city square before a tornado ripped it apart, and carried the bandstand away, too. We recalled sitting in chairs on the courthouse lawn on a sticky hot summer evening, listening to an outdoor concert as we fanned ourselves with cardboard/stick fans given away by the funeral home.

Oh the memories of a simple stroll through a small town.

Later, we kids would climb the attic stairs, smelling the dusky scent of the buffalo skin that hung over a rack, see the dusty cribs and strollers we had used as toddlers, and wipe the dust off the window to the north and see the traffic coming over the hill.

All this revived by the thought of turkey baking. Later, after Grandma died, Aunt Margaret moved into the tall house on the highway. Her lifestyle must have seemed eccentric to some. She liked cats. Lots of them. Everywhere. Heaven help the people who wanted to get to the turkey on the kitchen table before the cats did.

Meanwhile, fill your plate. Dust off a chair and have a seat, burnish the cobwebs from the corner over the door. But never forget that there's a loving aunt gently waiting to give you a hug and whisper in her soft hush of a voice.

The last time I saw Aunt Margaret was two years ago. Morning sunlight filtered through the plant leaves in the bay window, highlighting the lovely lineless face of my eldest aunt who had seldom in her life faced the sunlight without a bonnet or parasol protecting her ivory skin. She talked openly then, about her love for writing that had surfaced during her later years, and about the children in her family who loved to write, or who "had the gift," as she called it.

She told me about the nighttime sound of children's laughter coming from the attic when she slept in her four-poster bed upstairs.

The sounds were of children past, much like children in your day and mine, children filled with the innocence that only youth can bring. Children who, to the best of their knowledge, know full well that the best way to start anything is to start at the beginning. Or as a first-grader told me last week, when it comes to preparing Thanksgiving dinner, "First, you put the turkey in the skillet."

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