The pies were already cooling on the kitchen counter when I got up on Thanksgiving morning, their golden brown tops pleasantly cracked, their fluted crusts darkened from the hot oven. They smelled of cinnamon and pumpkin and cloves, and sometimes I broke off just a tiny, flaky bit of crust because I could not stand to wait.
We sat cross-legged on the dining-room floor with our bowls of cereal, staring at the noisy marching bands of the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, while the fragrance of sauteeing onions and sage floated from the kitchen, such an odd smell for morning. My mother was elbow-deep in bread crumbs and giblets, mixing the stuffing in a deep bowl. She stuffed both cavities of the bird, and baked the rest in a separate loaf pan.
The bird went in the oven shortly after noon, and as it dripped and browned the smells made me ravenous. Dinner wasn't for hours yet, and I hovered around the kitchen, desperate for something, anything, that could curb this hunger. But I was not to spoil my appetite, and after lunch I was shooed away. "You're underfoot."
Dark came early in Duluth in late November, and in late afternoon I came in from outside where I had been hula hooping or building a snowman--that time of year the weather could go either way--and when I walked inside the warm air, rich and heavy with the smells of roasting turkey and baking cornbread and sweet potatoes, just about knocked me flat. I was drawn to the steamy kitchen, which was a blur of activity and nerves. Someone mashing potatoes, someone opening the oven to check on the browning marshmallow tops to the sweet potatoes, peas (green, not mushy) boiling away in a giant saucepan, enough peas for more than the twelve of us, peas for an army, because some of my brothers always ate so many.
I did, too, studding my mashed potatoes as though I were making a mosaic.
Guv had the electric knife out now, and was whistling while he sliced thin strips of juicy white meat from the carcass of the bird. I whined, I wheedled, I won a tiny, tiny bite ("This is the best part of the bird," Guv would say, solemnly handing me a succulent bit), and I would take it and run away, happy to have the best part but wondering what all the rest of it was for.
The table was set, with the thick white tablecloth that came out for holidays, and the good china from Aunt Barbara, and candles, always candles, and why oh why is it not yet time to eat?
We used the pale pink goblets--the large ones for milk, the small ones for wine, Mogen David, and everyone had to have at least a sip because it was civilized. The bitter purple drink stayed in my glass; it was worse than liver; I could not drink it. Bring on the potatoes! And the gravy, two boats of it, a beautiful even brown, and the stuffing--be careful of the lid! These dishes cannot be replaced!--and the cooled pies lined up in the kitchen, heavy cream in the fridge, waiting to be whipped in the deep crock with a metal egg beater.
I loaded my plate. I looked at my family, already digging in, someone tasting the Mogen David and grimacing, someone reaching for the gravy boat, someone piling enough peas onto his plate for an army. And I did not know it then, did not really think about it, but in my heart and my brain and my belly and my soul, I was thankful.