From Judith McCarrick, Co-President
As a very young child, I loved having Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents' home. My grandmother did all the cooking, which included preparing a large turkey, making dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, hot rolls, and pumpkin pie. Traditional, right?
My mother and my aunt set the table and cleared the dishes after dinner and dessert. During dinner, my grandfather would frequently hand an empty dish to my grandmother and ask her to fill it up. At the end of the meal, he'd lean back in his chair and say, "Good dinner, Mother." Then my grandmother and her daughters would do the dishes and put everything away.
As I grew older and was also included in some of the chores, I began to ask questions. What did the men do? Answer: Not one thing, with the
exception of bringing extra chairs to the table. When I complained about their lack of participation, my grandfather, my father and my uncles just chuckled, and when I asked why my grandfather called his wife "Mother," they laughed out loud as if I'd told a particularly funny joke.
It all seemed very odd to me, but no one else ever questioned our Thanksgiving "traditions" and I discovered that the same lopsided picture was played out in the homes of almost everyone I knew. It was, after all, the 1950s, and women were extolled as goddesses of the home, and, in particular, of the kitchen. Thanksgiving dinner (and Christmas dinner, too, if we're being honest) was a holiday for men and a workday for women.
As an adult, I changed all that. In my home, Thanksgiving dinners are always more inclusive. Everyone--male and female--contributes to the cooking, setting and clearing the table, and washing the dishes. No one talks about gender roles, and the only family members who call me "Mother" are my children.
I would love to re-create Thanksgiving for my grandmother, paying her the respect she deserved. Though she never said a word, I imagine she was exhausted by the end of the evening.
In my re-creation, I'd seat her at the head of the table and let the rest of the family...all the family...treat her like the special, loving woman she was. And I'd ask the men in the family to join the women in the kitchen for preparation and clean-up time.
I would make Thanksgiving the day we blew the lid off the 1950s.
From Lynn Wenzel, Co-President
During this time of year, when the rain turns the tree trunks black against blazing oranges and yellows, and pumpkins appear on neighborhood porches, my thoughts turn to remembrances of times past.
It seems only yesterday when Thanksgiving was a huge bash at my parents' house. Of course, all the women spent the entire day in the kitchen, cooking, washing dishes, and setting the table, while the men watched football. We women, as we chatted in the kitchen, often made snarky comments about how useless they were.
We didn't wait for them to make our cocktails. We sipped as we stirred, faces flushed, laughter hearty. It did not escape my notice that the females did all the work. As a baby feminist of about 15, I marched one Thanksgiving into my great aunt and uncle's den declaring that it was about time the guys made themselves useful.
At which point my father told me to get back where I belonged and to stop bossing people around. Wow, have things changed. Now my son and his family host Thanksgiving, he does a lot of the cooking, and we all pitch in on side dishes and cleaning up. I set the table with the help of the grandchildren. So, yes, things have changed for the better, at least for the women.
But, oh, how I miss all those lovely people--my jocund grandmother; my glamorous Aunt Lela; my exquisitely delicate mom; my father the Colonel; Uncle Bert, the ornithologist; and Poppy, who loved poetry AND football in equal measure. They are all gone now and here I am, the matriarch, presiding over a Thanksgiving table filled with family they never met.
The parts have changed, but the play remains the same--another year passes as the ghosts of the beloveds linger around our table. The leitmotiv is, as it has always been, love.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!