Vi Chronicles: Grateful

It’s all women in the house until the sun goes down. That’s because the men (and Peggy Lou) are hunting. At least one of the hunters has already been successful. You can tell by the gutted carcass hanging from the rafters in the garage. My aunt’s kitchen is huge. There’s a wood stove in one corner and my uncle’s old recliner in another. There’s a rocking chair with a sleeping cat next to the table that is next to the wood stove, and there’s  a fat beagle asleep on the floor dreaming about running, his short little legs pounding the air. There’s a big Formica dining table against one wall, across from a refrigerator that is covered in photos and magnets. Next to the fridge is the stove, which is probably not good feng shui but magical smells are emanating from it, nonetheless. Next to the stove is the door to the shed, which has its own unique smell of stored vegetables, and the back wall of the kitchen houses the sink, cabinets and counters. Those cabinets are hiding all the pies. What you won’t find in the kitchen is fancy china, holiday decorations or a fall-themed centerpiece.

The women have music on…Elvis, Mel, Merle, Loretta, Kenny Rogers. My mother has seven children and I’m the youngest. My aunt has three. Aunt Lou, the third sister, has one son. She’ll dine with him and join us later. Everyone is talking and laughing and the phone on the wall rings every once in awhile, the caller asking who is there, do we need anything, and letting us know what time they might arrive. Some are playing cards for quarters and drinking coffee brandy with milk out of tall plastic tumblers and some are working. My mother is always one of the coffee brandy-drinking card players and my aunt’s daughters are always the workers, but there never seems to be any animosity around the division of labor. Some people like to play cards and others do not. I don’t like to play cards but I don’t like to work, either, so I wander into the living room where there might be some excitement happening with the cousins. If there’s snow, we might go slide on the big hill next to the house. If not, we might play on the rope swing out back or hide under the table, stealing dropped change, our big ears attuned to the adult conversation.

Pretty soon the sun drops and the hunters arrive, stamping their feet, removing their gear, stripping down the layers to wool socks, jeans, and flannel shirts. My uncle sits in his recliner and takes his time getting his boots off. Someone hands him a whiskey seven. The women shift about, setting the table and getting the food out. Someone finishes the gravy. At this house they make giblet gravy. It’s light colored and has suspicious bumps as compared to my father’s dark, velvety, giblet-free version. I eat it, lumps and all. Later, when I’m grown, I’ll make my father’s version but a part of me will long for the other flavor, which I never learned how to make.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the distribution of the meal. People take a plate and help themselves. The table has been pulled out to accommodate more people. As many adults as can gather there. The rest of us find seats wherever and dig in. It is all delicious, especially the stuffing, my favorite.  I’ll have seconds on that stuffing, thank you very much.

Then, the men relax and the women take turns clearing, washing and drying the dishes, even me, now that I’m old enough to contribute. Peggy-Lou, my big sister, is kind enough to come fetch me from the living room where I am enjoying myself. This is forever noted in my petulant adolescent mind. The table is down-sized again and the card-playing resumes.

The cleaning is finished and finally, thank God, it’s time for dessert. Out comes the Ambrosia. If you’ve never had this you must try it some day. It’s a salad made with fruit cocktail, mandarin oranges, whipped cream and tiny marshmallows. And out come the pies….what kind do you like? We have it, I’m sure. There’s apple, cherry (my favorite), chocolate cream (my brother’s favorite), mincemeat (nobody’s favorite), banana cream, and of course pumpkin. Actually, there’s pumpkin AND squash, not that anyone can tell the difference no matter what they say. The hardest part is deciding what to have first; the Ambrosia or the cherry pie? The second hardest part is deciding what to have second; the chocolate cream? The apple? More cherry? My uncle thinks I should have some mincemeat pie. He is incorrect.

It’s still early and people continue to arrive and depart throughout the evening. Someone might get out the snow mobiles and us kids will take turns riding through the woods, holding on tight to the waist of the uncle, brother or cousin in charge of driving. There may be some tobogganing and snowball fight or two, and then it’s back into the house to warm up. You ask me what I’m grateful for and I tell you that I’m grateful there’s more pie.

I’m grateful for a lot more than that. I just don’t know it yet.

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The Sisters: Aunt Lou (Lula), Aunt Tee (Tee Wee), Mom (Vi)

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Vi, “upta camp”, as we like to say in Maine.

Uncle Ken

Uncle Ken (Photo by Paula Kozinn)

  18 comments for “Vi Chronicles: Grateful

  1. Anonymous
    November 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Another great chapter in the Vi Chronicles. Love the photos. Dinner at Aunt Tee’s reminds me a lot of dinner at Aunt Joan’s. The hunters, the big warm kitchen, the women bustling, and even the mincemeat that all of us kids made yuck-faces over. Good stuff. -GG

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  2. Doug in Oakland
    November 22, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Wonderful story. My dad was a goose hunter, so my mom had to learn how to cook a wild goose so that it could be eaten at holiday dinners, which she did, but I still liked turkey better.
    My mom was a goose hunter, also, and I sort of inherited her shotgun when she stopped. I never liked hunting geese, though, too much sitting still in a freezing cold haystack and waiting for a goose that I didn’t want to eat in the first place to fly over.
    Pheasants, however, were an entirely different matter. First there was the hunting of them, which entailed working with the dog, who all of the sudden wasn’t the fat, lazy, pet she usually was any more, but was all business and hard to keep up with as she worked the brush looking for a pheasant, found one, and cornered it, coming to a “point” when she had done so: dead still, stubby little tail up, and one front paw off of the ground. Then the bird would fly, and lord help you if you missed it, as you would never fully recover from the derision expressed by that dog.
    But mostly I just found them tasty, unlike the waterfowl my dad and brother were so fond of hunting.
    My best friend Mark and I had a secret tradition we perpetrated upon our unsuspecting (for the first five years or so, until they figured it out) parents: My folks tended to have their holiday meals at noon, and featured turkey, goose, and my mother’s cornbread dressing, while Mark’s folks had theirs around six PM, and featured turkey, in-the-bird stuffing, and a Smithfield ham. So Mark would show up on his bicycle at our place shortly before noon, and we would both ride off on our bikes to his place late in the afternoon, and get to eat two full holiday dinners.
    I feel fairly certain that I would not survive that level of gluttony were I to attempt it now.

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    • November 22, 2017 at 8:40 pm

      Thanks Doug. I’m picturing your dog looking at you in disbelief because you just missed the shot and saying, really? Call yourself a hunter? So which is your favorite stuffing-regular or your mom’s cornbread? I never had any kind of stuffing other than regular stuffing until I left home. Down here, sausage stuffing is popular. My husband loves it. Me, not so much. What are you doing this year for Thanksgiving?

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      • Doug in Oakland
        November 23, 2017 at 2:38 am

        I don’t remember how the cornbread dressing was made, just that it had celery and onions in it. I guess I like them both. Sometimes mom would make some stuffing in the bird so we would have both, but there was already so much left over that she kinda left off of adding things after a while.
        Sausage stuffing sounds good, I’ll have to see if I can try some.
        I think I have a special challenge tomorrow, as I think our friend Zsuzs is coming over, and she is a vegetarian with celiac, so no meat or gluten.
        So I bought stuff to make gluten-free pasta with sauteed veggies that I know she likes, and I got a spaghetti squash, and Briana says she is going to make yams and also cornbread, and is thinking about making a pumpkin pie with a crust made from gluten-free cereal.
        Those are the aspirations anyway, what actually happens? We’ll see…

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      • November 23, 2017 at 3:39 am

        That all sounds yum to me. Somewhere I have a blog post about things you can do with leftover stuffing. I had a lot of it one year. I made cranberry relish and stuffing tonight-2 things crossed off the list. My daughter is making the pies. No mincemeat allowed. Happy Thanksgiving, Doug.

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  3. November 22, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    This is Thanksgiving at my Aunt Helen Rita’s, my dad’s baby sister. Same house. And, Doug’s pheasant. There was no turkey, but geese, venison, and pheasant. Love and light to you and this year’s celebration.

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  4. November 22, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    I like your Vi chronicles. Sounds a lot like our holiday gatherings at Grandma’s house. We had a lot of hunters in the family and I’m sure there were ducks and geese and pheasant, as well as turkey, just because there had to be with all those people. The usual sides, plus unusual Jello salads, as that was the era (my favorite had green jello, pineapple and some kind of cream cheese layer, which came out of a mold, of course. After dinner, the men crowded around the kitchen table to play Shaskopf (Sheepshead), and there was a lot of cigar smoking, cheap beer drinking, table pounding, loud eruptions about who “mauer”-ed, and small change skidding back and forth. The women huddled in a semicircle in the living room clucking and gossiping, and we kids found ways to entertain ourselves with old-fashioned games or just “ramming around.”

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    • November 22, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Thank you, Paulette-I liked reading about your family Thanksgivings, as well. Now that I’m older, I find myself overly focused with my to do list. I forget to enjoy it sometimes. I loved those huge family gatherings where everyone chipped in a bit and enjoyed it more.

      Like

  5. November 22, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Odds were good there was a deer carcass hanging outside as well. The guys in our family hunted locally, but a lot of their friends went “up nort.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jenny_o
    November 23, 2017 at 2:25 am

    Some memories just make you wish you could step back in time for awhile, don’t they? What a wonderful description you’ve set out here. And, really, that’s kind of stepping back in time after all.

    What’s wrong with mincemeat pie? Especially with deer meat in it? Only the best kind of pie EVER and I kid you not.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Chicken. I hope you and your family are well.

    Like

    • November 23, 2017 at 3:42 am

      Thanks Jenny. And yes, writing about it kind of is like stepping back in time. Everyone has mostly passed now. My Aunt Tee is the only sister left. It must be lonely. I hope she remembers those times as fondly as I do. And Jenny, no, literally every other kind of pie made in the world is better than mincemeat. Ew.

      Like

  7. November 24, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Wonderful memories. I was the baby in my family and the lazy one, too. 🙂 Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year.

    I’ve had to go private on my blog. An unwanted visitor. I will let you know when I start another blog. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Like

  8. November 27, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Well-told, Chicken. I made giblet gravy, but blended the giblets so I could lie to the girls about the constituents of the delicious stuff. Your writing took me back 60 years.
    Mike

    Like

    • November 29, 2017 at 12:26 am

      HI Mike-I noticed you made some of the good stuff. I got rid of my giblets and went with dad’s tried and true but one of these days I’ll get brave and try it. And now I’ll know enough to blend those giblets haha.

      Like

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