I don't recall the year. I was maybe 10 or so. I can only place the time in relationship to the events of that period. It was definitely after World War II and before the Korean Conflict. It was after we moved to 1047 Neilson Street and before I graduated from Marin Elementary School. My graduation took place in January of 1951 (we had mid-term graduations in those days) so this very special event would have taken place in a year between 1947 and 1950. Take your pick. I'm going with 1948.
Each year, as Thanksgiving approached, the kids at school would be talking and bragging about the upcoming holiday dinner. Bragging rights centered around WHERE they would be having dinner, how FAR they would have to travel to get there, or how MANY people were expected and, most important of all, what would the turkey WEIGH. This last easily carried TWICE the bragging rights of any of the others and when the bragging at school resumed after the holiday it was the WEIGHT of the turkey that carried the most weight. (Pun intended.)
It was common back then to have a large family gathering for Thanksgiving, much like it is today. Some years, we were invited to share Thanksgiving at a relative's and sometimes they would be at our house. These would turn into a large affair and the house would be filled with warmth, mouth-watering aromas, and kids. In those days, following the War, there was not a lot of money in our family. Turkeys were hard to come by. The modern, high-producing Turkey farms we take for granted today didn't exist back then and there wasn't an abundance of turkeys to be had. Often-times you had to order your turkey ahead or you would be left without.
This year was a tough one, like many others during the post-war period, and money was very tight. None of our relatives could afford to host a family dinner nor could we afford the gas to travel - even at 26 cents a gallon. As Thanksgiving approached, Mom and Dad sat us down, my two older brothers and I, and told us, with a great deal of sadness that we wouldn't be going anywhere for Thanksgiving that year. To make matters worse, we wouldn't be able to have a turkey. Seeing our disappointment they did assure us that we would have something as good as a turkey.
Well, I gotta tell ya that the promise of something as good as a turkey wasn't very assuring. What could possibly be as good as turkey?
During those last three days at school before Thanksgiving wasn't easy. The kids in the school-yard began their bragging on Monday. One was going all the way to San Jose (a considerable drive from Albany, in those days) while another was going to Sacramento - even further! Still another was expecting 16 people to come to their house and yet another's family had ordered a 20-pound turkey. Enormous!! We boys tried to smile at all this news but we kept quiet about our family's plans. After enduring Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday filled with constant bragging at school it was a relief to finally be going home for the long holiday weekend. There, the only thing ahead of us was something as good as a turkey. Yeah, right.
Going to bed that Thanksgiving Eve was not filled with the usual expectations of a Thanksgiving dinner where one could stuff oneself to the point of immobility. I remember past Thanksgivings, after filling myself to the brim, my Grandmother used to say that my stomach was so full she could crack a tick on it. She would then move as if she were going to try and I would erupt in a fit of giggles while trying to protect my distended belly. Alas, there would be none of that on this Thanksgiving.
Waking up on that Thanksgiving morning felt a lot like other Thanksgivings and a tiny feeling of hope prevailed. The house was warm from early-morning baking (Mom was pretty good with pies) and the aroma of herbs and spices permeated the whole house as Dad (the REAL cook) was preparing his famous bread stuffing.
We peeked, hopefully, into the kitchen but we saw no signs of a turkey. There was a pie and other goodies but no turkey. We ate a quick breakfast of cold cereal and got out of the way so as not to interfere with the cooking of the thanksgiving meal. Mom shooed us outside with the suggestion that we go play but warned us to be back in time for dinner because we sure didn't want to be late for Thanksgiving. Uh-hunh.
We sat on the front steps for awhile, feeling sorry for ourselves. The street was pretty quiet. We decided to go up the hill and around the corner to the park. We found some of our friends there who had also been run out of their homes. They were all smiles as they talked about the dinner they would soon be eating. We put up a brave front but didn't let on what we would be having. We didn't KNOW!
Finally, it was time. We came down the hill from the park and into the house, not overly enthusiastic about the turkey-less dinner that awaited us. We washed up for dinner and came to the table. We sat, in patient anticipation, while mashed potatoes and gravy, home-made rolls, cranberry sauce, and string beans were bought in and placed on the table. Even Dad's stuffing was brought in a dish instead of inside a turkey. In the middle of the table was an empty space where the covered serving platter, holding who knows what, would soon be placed.
Mom and Dad were smiling and laughing and having a great time in the kitchen while the three of us looked at each other not knowing what to expect. Finally, the platter with its cover was placed in the middle of the table. Mom took her seat and Dad, as he always did, asked the blessing. When he was done he picked up the carving knife and, with great ceremony, sharpened it in preparation for carving.....what? At a signal from Dad, Mom, with a great, dramatic flourish, lifted the cover off the serving plate to expose...
A ten-legged "turkey"!
I kid you not!! A turkey-shaped meat-loaf with TEN individual drumsticks lined up in two rows across the turkey's breast!
Our eyes popped! We didn't know what to say. We just sat there in stunned disbelief as Mom and Dad were beaming! Slowly, we began to smile as we beheld this marvelous creation! We started to giggle and soon all five of us were laughing at this turkey in the middle of the table. Dad had created this bird with several pounds of hamburger and shaped and molded it into a pretty good representation of a turkey. He formed hamburger drumsticks around short wooden skewers and stuck them in double rows across the body of the hamburger. Presto! A ten-legged turkey. Wow!
Dad then, very deftly, carved out a slice from the 'breast' and placed it on each of our plates along with a drumstick. Mom would then add a serving of all the other dishes. We had a feast! The day was filled with joy, laughter, and second helpings. Second helpings? Yes, indeed! We all had a second drumstick! Grandma could surely have cracked a tick on my belly that day. That dinner was the best Thanksgiving meal I ever had. Certainly, the most memorable.
As for school? Well, we could hardly wait to get back to school on Monday morning! We had BRAGGING rights! Who else had a Thanksgiving dinner where everyone had TWO drumsticks!
Copyright 2008 Wes Shore. Permission is granted to send this to others, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.