When we were growing up we always ate Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Elliott’s house or at our house. I don’t ever remember it at any of my other uncle’s houses. If it was at Grandma and Grandpa’s my mother always helped cook there and if we ate at our house Grandma always helped cook there. We always had goose or turkey for dinner. I remember the first time we ever had goose for dinner. Mom and Grandma put it in a huge kettle of boiling water for a few minutes before roasting it. They said that would eliminate some of the fat in the skin. I don’t know. I never cooked a goose except for a skinned one that someone gave us after Louie died. It was a wild goose and didn’t have nearly the fat that our tame ones did. Skinning it was not a good idea either, even though the hunting magazines say do it. Skinning the bird leaves all of the muscle exposed to the heat of the oven. It dries out. If you want to have goose for dinner, don’t skin it. And don’t put it in one of those oven bags. THAT will really concentrated the fat if you have a domestic goose. Cover it and roast it at a low temp for along time to allow the excess oil to drain from the skin. The uncover it and let it brown. Mmm. Makes me hungry for roast goose.
The highlight of the day for my dad was that he and whichever of the uncles who wanted would all go rabbit hunting. Uncle Orland would come up from Gallipolis and sometime Uncle Paul or Uncle Fred would all go hunting early in the morning. They would set out at dawn and go to the farm. Mom and Grandma always planned dinner for mid- afternoon, about two or three o’clock so they would be home. They would come home bringing a fragrance of cold woods and grass with them. If they had shot any rabbits those had to be skinned and cleaned and put to soak in a pan of salt water before we could eat. My bother and I would go out and watch the process. The rabbits would be for dinner Friday or Saturday afternoon. When that was done Dad and Uncle Orland would go wash up and come to dinner still wearing their brown hunting pants.
The first Thanksgiving meal I cooked after Louie and I moved to the little pink house was distressing for me. We had a huge turkey and all of our family over to eat it. I remember trying to get everything done while I worked around four or five sisters and grown nieces. Any one of them would have been happy to help, but they hadn’t had any experience in cooking a bilighana style Thanksgiving meal so they didn’t know what to do or even offer to do. I had plenty of experience but no practice in directing people to help; nor had I lived with my Navajo sisters long enough to be comfortable asking them to help or bossing them around. In later years they would just jump in and do what ever needed doing and I would have no shyness in asking them to do something particular. Louie’s family at that time was very traditional and had very little experience in making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Louie had invited them to our and they were all looking forward to it. And I was happy to have them. That year though we were all just a little bit nervous about our proper roles in the preparation. Should they volunteer? Would I be offended if the offered to help? Should I ask for help or would that be rude? None of us were sure.
This day, I think I had potatoes cooking on the back of the stove and noodles in another pot. I had dressing baking in the oven with the turkey and corn or something heating on another burner. It was time to take the turkey out of the oven, to use the pan juice to make gravy and mash the potatoes and I had only one pair of hands and no place to set the turkey to prepare it. There were too many people in the way! I had a proper melt down.
Now my meltdowns don’t involve yelling and screaming and calling everyone names. My meltdowns involve just going off alone and quietly crying – except our house only had two rooms. One was the bedroom which was full of kids entertaining Notah (he was just a year and a couple months old). And the other was the kitchen which was full of grown-up ladies. I had no place to go for my meltdown. I was on the verge of melting right in the middle of everything! I turned the oven off and went out and got in the Blazer. 🙂 It was a little quick. I won’t say I ran exactly, but it was a quick exit.
Louie was outside with the other men, all of them leaning against trucks and trees and sitting on milk crates. He either saw me go out or Mom (his mom, I called her that too.)yelled at him and told him something was wrong with me… Anyway, he came over to the Blazer in the midst of my seeping tears to find out what was wrong. And, of course, that only made the seeping tears turn into a waterfall: There’s-all-these-people-in-the-kitchen-and-so-much-has-to-be-done-and-I-don’t-mind-doing-it-but-I-can’t-because-everyone-is-in-the-way-and-the-turkey-needs-to-come-out-of-the-oven-and-the-potatoes-need-mashing-and-the-dressing-is-going-to-be-dried-out-because-it-has-been-in-the-too-long-and-I-need-to-make-gravy-from-the-turkey-juices-and-the-noodles-are-going-to-be-all-clumpy-because-they-need-more-broth-and-we-need-to-make-more-coffee-outside-because-the-original-pot-is-almost-all-gone-and-we-need-to-put-out-the-plates-and-so-forth-and-there-are-people-in-the-way. And.. and.. and..
Well! My husband didn’t have a concern in the world about bossing his sisters and nieces and in laws around! I kinda wish now I could have been a little mouse in the corner to hear him reading the riot act. 😀 He shot off around the corner and into the house. By the time I got my seepage under control and drank the coffee he brought me I was calm and not shaking any more. When I went back inside the potatoes were mashed, the turkey was on the big cookie sheet and someone was slicing it and someone else was putting the juices in a pan so we could make gravy. I probably had and have still the best in-laws in the world. For many family get-to-gathers and years after that day we have cooked countless meals together with the women working to accomplish everything. But that first one was more than a little traumatic.
Looking back those days were filled with the loving closeness of the Navajo family group. They accepted me as though I’d been born to a Navajo woman and raised in the bosom of the community. Going home is a happy time for me. My heart is still in New Mexico.