November 18, 2006 § Leave a comment
When I was a girl, we always had Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s parents’ home in Standish, Maine. Her family wasn’t very large, just a sister and two brothers, plus maybe six assorted partners, children, and hangers-on, but there must have always been dozens of other guests because we ate dinner in the garage sitting in folding chairs at picnic tables and card tables, all lined up.
One guest I do remember coming to Thanksgiving was a friend of my grandfather’s from the paper mill. All the fingers on his left hand had been torn off in some mill-accident, but he seemed quite proud of his deformity and gestured, scratched, and displayed it around a lot more than was really necessary— or so it seemed to me. I absolutely couldn’t stand to look at it or even be in the same room with it, so I was usually set up in the living room with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and the Disney Channel. I might have been a bit of a princess.
My grandparents’ garage was a treasure trove to me. There was an old school chair in there, the kind with a flip-up desk attached, plus a riding lawnmower, various antique farming tools, a bicycle-built-for-two, my grandfather’s fishing equipment and lures, fifty-pound bags of feed for the ducks and chickens, and bookshelves full of arcane cookbooks, Reader’s Digest Abridged Classics, and good, old-fashioned bodice-rippers.
Here’s a picture of my dad and me in that fine building.
The garage was connected to their house by the breezeway— a peculiar New England architectural feature— which was carpeted in astroturf and housed an enormous antique upright piano. No one in my mother’s family play the piano, or any instrument, so this relic remains a mystery. But on that piano my aunt taught me to play what remains the only tune I can muster, one that involves 90% black keys and a lot of knuckle work.
My grandmother was, to my mind, was a great home economist. She had a room dedicated to sewing and each year she would give my mother and me (and often my Cabbage Patch Kid, Vanessa) matching nightgowns for Christmas. She knitted constantly, knit without looking at her hands or at her pattern, knit incredible sweater vests with cables that looked like owls in front, and tiny cardigans with Snoopy on the back.
She only bought cheese in the form of cheese ends, she made her own jams, jellies, and pickles, and designed her own knitting patterns on an Apple II in the spare bedroom (this was 1987, mind you)— but rather than upgrade to a new electric stove, she cooked and heated the house with an old wood stove until the day she died. Which was, coincidentally, the day before my aunt taught me that song on the piano.
Daily Insect Casualty Report