From Where I Sit

By Pat Spilseth, Columnist

November means families getting together to remember our blessings and enjoy a huge Thanksgiving meal. Today families are usually smaller and cousins spread out across the country. It’s harder to host a large family gathering of cousins, aunts and uncles, but our immediate family loves to get together. This year my daughter Kate is hosting the holiday meal. It’ll be a happy occasion with the four little cousins dressed up and playing together. Their imaginations are running wild and laughter is abundant. 

It’s November, almost time for Thanksgiving turkey feasts with cranberries, sweet potatoes, fluffy mashed potatoes with gobs of butter and pumpkin pie. I haven’t heard any Christmas carols playing on the radio, but I know it won’t be long before the radio starts to play “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Silent Night”  and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Though I love hearing those familiar Christmas tunes, please don’t play them until AFTER Thanksgiving.

The gathering I remember best was when Mom’s relatives met at Aunt Ruth’s house in Morris where Uncle Oscar took the kids on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snowy streets. Cousins Lois and Beverly played the upright piano down in the basement, and all the cousins sang Christmas carols. Our parents played cards, usually Whist, at card tables set up in Ruth’s living room while the men smoked Lucky Strikes, and women chatted about kids and recipes.   

As I sniff the mouth-watering smells of pumpkin bread baking in the oven, I start to hum “Over the river and through the woods/to Grandmother’s house we go.” It’s time to celebrate the season of Thanksgiving. Time to remember our many blessings and celebrate with family.

Do you have any idea of how many calories the typical American will consume on Thanksgiving Day? Better loosen your belts…according to the Calorie Control Council most of us will indulge ourselves with 4,500 calories at that beautiful linen table tempting us with a succulent stuffed turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pie with whipping cream and wine or coffee with cream and sugar.  

The turkey/stuffing/pie assault will fill our stomachs, and hydrochloric acid will naturally be released to aid digestion. But when there’s too much food, and there definitely will be too much, the acid is pushed up the esophagus. Many of us will experience uncomfortable heartburn! If you gobbled your meal or washed it down with a fizzy drink, you swallowed air which will make you even more bloated. According to Robynne Chutkan, a gastroenterologist and author of “The Microbiome Solution,” your best remedy is to burp, then excuse yourself. Though burping is considered rather tacky, burping relieves the pressure you’ll be feeling.  

After the big meal, most of us will feel sluggish. Fatty foods like potatoes au gratin will increase that feeling, but don’t hit the sofa. Help clear the table, do the dishes, build a fire in the fireplace. I know there’ll be a football game, probably several, but lying down will not aid digestion. A simple solution is shopping. You can get a jump on Christmas shopping as many stores already have red and green Christmas displays.

November’s Thanksgiving Day is a gentle reminder that we have much to be thankful for, blessings we often take for granted like good health, family and friends plus a warm home and plenty of food. During Thanksgiving week I want to hear radio stations play that memorable, age-old, Thanksgiving song, which has already begun to spin endlessly on my head’s turntable:

“Over the river and through the wood,

To Grandfather’s house we go;

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,

Oh, how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes and bites the nose

As over the ground we go…”

Lydia Maria Child wrote this popular Thanksgiving song as a poem in 1844. She wanted to celebrate childhood memories of visits to her grandfather’s house. Sometimes the song is alternated with lines about Christmas, rather than Thanksgiving.

The song makes me recall the holidays I loved so much as a kid. When we went to Grandma DeKok’s house in Brooten, I’d be so excited to play with my cousins. The gatherings were usually held at our Dutch Grandma’s home, which she shared with my Aunt Sadie, the red-headed postmistress in Brooten. Sadie was a favorite aunt who sewed little girls’ dresses, canned chickens, fruit and vegetables, quilted cozy blankets, baked Dutch treats and was a consummate garage sale shopper. It seemed to me that Aunt Sadie could do anything.  

Sadie and Grandma’s house smelled of chickens roasting in the kitchen. In the living room, the uncles sat near the upright piano in overstuffed chairs and sofa smoking cigarettes though Uncle Dan was rarely without his fragrant pipe. The aunts sat on hard, stiff-backed, wooden, dining room chairs after they’d busied themselves in the kitchen assembling the meal, fed the little ones, served coffee to the men, gathered their sewing and finally sat for a few moments of rest and chatting. Grandma always dressed in dark colors, with her gray hair tucked into a bun. Silently she’d rock back and forth in her wooden rocker near the window. I never remember her saying anything.  

In the sunny kitchen, my cousins would sit around the gray Formica table in padded chairs, surrounded by smells of chicken, potatoes and rolls coming from the oven. Kool-aid was our treat along with rice crispy bars and sugar cookies, but only after we’d eaten a healthy meat and potatoes meal. After eating, the kids would scoot to the many windowed front porch to play with the dolls, buggies, balls, trucks, Chinese checkers and Cootie games that Aunt Sadie had found at garage sales. The afternoon passed too quickly: too soon we had to climb into our blue Hudson car and drive home. At the close of the day, I longed to take my cousins home with me: I always wanted brothers and more sisters to play with.  

Thanksgiving remains a favorite holiday for me, a time to gather family and friends together to remember our blessings.

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