'Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!'

“Over the river and through the woods to grandfather’s house we go…” Remember? Dad would recite a few lines as we got ready to go to one or the other grandparents’ for Thanksgiving dinner. I have only read that poem through a couple of times, but those first lines always conjure up fond memories of the holidays for me.


Dad had several siblings who, when I was a youngster, lived nearby. If we were going to his family for Thanksgiving dinner a multitude of cousins would be there and we kids had the run of the house. Mom had only one brother, but both of those grandparents were from large families so lots of extended family would drop by during the day. If they didn’t come for dinner, someone extra was sure to show up for pie and coffee later in the day.

The menu was basically the same whichever family we joined: turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, cranberries; but the sides were different. One grandma was Pennsylvania Dutch so that dinner would go toward pickled beets and green beans with bacon. An in-law aunt would slip in a gelatin salad and Mom would supply the greens.

The other grandma was Scotch-Irish, so the sides were green vegetables and fruit salads, maybe peas and carrots (not my favorite) and here the in-laws might bring deviled eggs or a corn dish. But the biggest treat was dessert. Always pie: pumpkin, apple, cherry and mincemeat. Maybe a chocolate cream or lemon meringue, and lots of coffee.

Sometime during the afternoon the men would slip out to the “shop” and have a swig from Grandpa’s flask, maybe two, and come back ready to play cards or take a nap or just chill while the women chatted after clearing the table and doing the dishes..

Then, just before everyone made the move to go home, the leftovers were brought out for a snack, or to take some with us as we trundled off into the dark.

My own Thanksgiving menu has evolved from those remembered dinners and many years with Hubby’s family. We’ve added a corn and oyster casserole, a fruit salad made with marshmallows, some years a deep fried turkey and the men don’t go to the “shop” to have their toddy anymore. But the feeling is the same: Family gathering to share the blessing of one more year together.

I was not aware of it, but I’m sure that we must have alternated which family we joined for Thanksgiving. That’s how our family solved the situation when the kids were small. And with Christmas just weeks away and both families nearby those decisions became more what time and where rather than who. The only spoiler might be the weather.

We have always lived somewhere that “weather permitting” is a contingency of all travel plans made during the holidays. Even as a child I remember watching the weather, hoping it would not snow on the day we were supposed to go to Grandma’s, even though we only had to travel 15 miles or so.

You might not be familiar with the “Palouse Country” of eastern Washington. It is a fabulous wheat farming area with ground so fertile it sprouts crops just by thinking about what you want to plant, but in reality it is the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, which lie just to the east about a hundred miles or so. In the Palouse they farm hills that anyplace else in the country are considered mountains. I didn’t realize that steep hills were not farmed everywhere until we took a trip east one year and I saw huge areas of flat land covered with grain, but the hills (that the locals called mountains) were left uncultivated.

Stories abound about why they farm those steep hills. The most prevalent one being that no one told them it couldn’t be done. That area has no flatland so the farmers who came into the country with the railroad boom in the late 1800s simply cleared the brush and trees and planted wheat. By the time an expert arrived to let them know they should be loggers instead, everyone had developed his own method of farming or borrowed one from a neighbor, and the Palouse country was a booming wheat producer.

But those same hills make winter travel a little dicey at times. Winds whistle down the draws (“hollers” to you southerners). Snow or rain pelts a vehicle unmercifully and turns the roads to slime. It was much easier to stay home than risk running into the ditch on a backcountry road. When Thanksgiving dawned clear, or at least no precipitation, we kids were up and dressed and ‘raring to go as soon as we could get into the car.

This year, Sister in Palmer has lured us there with a traditional menu and the promise of lots of family so we’ll do the Alaskan version of “Over the river and through the woods” and head north. Weather permitting, of course.

“The horse knows the way…”

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.


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