People & Places
The nearly 200-year-old poem that goes, “Over the river, and through the wood, to grandmother’s house we go,” brings me back to holidays of yesteryear.
Over the “river,” would be the Yellowstone River, which dissected my hometown of Glendive, Mont. Through the “wood” would actually be through the “underpass,” which carried train after train above and was the surest way to get to grandmother’s house.
For many of us, Thanksgiving inevitably brings back memories of family and food. While going to Grandma’s was special, it was not unusual. Grandma, Dorothy Brant, prepared and cooked every holiday meal for the clan on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
But wait, there’s more. She also whipped up a feast for us every Sunday. If you’re counting, that’s 52 Sunday’s a year. A relative recently confided something all us kids were probably thinking: Thanksgiving was best because we didn’t have to start the day early at Mass.
Upon arrival, 11 of us would pack into the tiny home, stacking our coats about 4-feet high on a bed in the back. Two card tables would be strategically placed to fit in the living room for the six kids — me, my brother, sister and three cousins. The adult folk, including Mom, Dad, uncle Jack and aunt Adele, would squeeze into the kitchen. The exact number would fluctuate with vacations and visitors.
My sister, Nancy, recalled recently that when our 2-year-old nephew was sitting in a high chair, he kept saying, “pokey, pokey,” over and over. Eventually, it was discovered that his bare feet were dragging against a cactus on the floor. Pokey, pokey indeed.
Time for the Thanksgiving feast, with turkey always the centerpiece. A small ham might be added for variety. Vegetables from Grandma’s garden were a staple, be it corn, peas, beans, sweet or mashed potatoes.
There would often be at least two kinds of pie — pumpkin, apple, lemon meringue or cherry, my favorite.
On our non-holiday Sunday visits, beef, pork or chicken would be the main course. Pretty much typical Midwestern fare, nothing exotic like tamales, pheasant, trout or strudel. All prepared, cooked and purchased by Grandmother. This was not a potluck.
While memories can be hazy, my siblings may remember details differently, some facts are clear. There was always a wonderful aroma. Looking back, there was always a calm. We kids were strangely well-behaved, with any good-natured fighting reserved for who got the last piece of pie. The rambunctiousness was saved for outside, often with a trip to the rugged hills a stones-throw away.
Hardly a peep was heard from the adults in the nearby kitchen. No complaints about finances or health issues, which certainly were concerns, and no arguments about the politics of the day, even though there’s little doubt my mom and uncle viewed things from different perspectives.
Reminiscing about those moments at Grandma’s in the 1960s and ʼ70s made me contemplate the peacefulness of it. After all, those were not peaceful times in this country. The conclusion can only be it was because of Grandma Brant, the most saintly person I’ve ever known. Without realizing it, all of us — children and adults — were emulating her, at least for a couple hours each week.
A frail woman who lived into her 90s, she had a quiet demeanor and strength. Widowed when I was only 4 or 5, Grandma carried on. She would take in ironing to help make ends meet. Each weekday morning, there was a mandatory trip to Mass and to help at the church rummage sale if needed. There never seemed to be a concern, never a harsh word.
Grandma enjoyed “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Lawrence Welk” and “I Love Lucy.” To my surprise, she thought Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, had a beautiful voice.
Magically, news of her kind heart spread by word of mouth to strangers. People down on their luck, perhaps scouring the nearby landfill for hidden treasure or riding the rail through town, would appear at her doorstep, searching for help. Out would come a dollar bill or some leftover chicken.
Those echoes of the past are front and center this holiday, as Patty and I turned over hosting Thanksgiving festivities for this year to our daughter, Cheyenne, and her husband, Josh. It is a melancholy moment, for sure. Yes, we can sleep in. The pressure of trying to have everything just right belongs to someone else. What do we watch on TV?
Still, how I will handle this passing of the torch still lingers. Does this moment signal a major shift in the family-dynamic? It has got me wondering, do our children and grandchildren have wonderful memories of holiday’s past, too?
However, a calming voice whispers: Is that you Patty? It’s time for new and exciting memories. Not to overshadow but compliment the past.
Which leads back to Grandma. This holiday season, I’m more thankful than ever about the example Grandma gave us and the path, without saying a word, she laid out for us.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.