Monday, November 22, 2010

Car Trips of Thanksgivings Past

Ahh, Thanksgiving. Probably my very favorite holiday of the year. Remarkably, it has managed to stay commercial-free over the years, which is more than I can say for just about every other holiday out there. I love the very idea of a day dedicated to giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives. Without the pressure of buying the perfect gift, we can gather with our families and celebrate good food, good company, and another year of not killing each other.

Alas, this year I am sorry to say that Kirk and I will not be able to be with our families as we chow down on the single greatest turkey recipe known to man (thank you Alton Brown!). And while I am grateful that we have the opportunity to join forces with our friends and next-door neighbors for dinner, I can’t help but reminisce about Thanksgivings past.

In my earliest memories, my family would pile into the old station wagon and head north for Turkey day. As many of you may know by now, my Nana and Papa lived in an Indiana suburb of the vast city of Chicago. When I was very young, we lived in Georgia, and then later Kentucky. Though spending time with family for the holidays is a good idea in theory, the drive to see them was inevitably more than my siblings and I could handle. The trip always seemed to unfold in exactly the same way.

“Okay, I have a roll of nickels for each of you.” My mom twisted around in her seat as my dad stared straight ahead at the swiftly moving road.

A cheer erupted among the three of us, stuffed unceremoniously in the back seat. Our greedy hands thrust forward, we waited impatiently for what amounted to a month of allowance to drop into our palms.

My mother held up her hands. “Now wait a minute. There is a catch. Each time you act up, you are going to have to pay me a nickel. When we get to Nana and Papa’s, you can spend the remaining amount on anything you want.”

“Even candy?” My brother asked incredulously. We were never allowed to eat candy. (Or white bread, junk cereals, or the mysterious foodlike substance known as Little Debbies)

“That’s right, son. Anything at all, even candy.”

We three looked among ourselves with wide eyes and open mouths. Candy!

My mother looked us each in the eye, as best she could with the restrictive seat belt and high headrest. “Now remember, you will have to give up a nickel each time you act up, so the better you behave the richer you will be.”

We nodded as solemnly as we could manage until the heavy, papered cylinders were dropped in our hands, then we squealed with delight and squirmed in our own seatbelts in a quasi victory dance.

My brother is older than me by 2 years, and my sister is 3 years older than him. As the youngest and smallest I was always the one strapped into the middle seat, feet resting on the mysteriously raised hump that usually made the position undesirable for big people.

For those first few miles we would giggle with each other, point out the window at randomly entertaining objects, and blurt out annoying lyrics to the kid-friendly songs that we were allowed to listen to. Oh the adventure! The freedom of the open road! The ability to use travel toothbrushes (yes, the obsession started early). It was all rainbows, and sunshine, and dreams of salami sandwiches that would await us when we reached Nana and Papa’s house.

And then my brother would poke me.

To this day, I swear to you that he started every fight. His clever hands shot out the moment my mom and sister were not paying attention, his finger jabbing sharply into my side. I angrily protested and poked him back. Of course it was only fair that the retaliatory strike be of greater force and better aim. He howled in protest and smacked me on a bare leg.

The resounding sound of flesh colliding with flesh instantly grabbed my mother’s attention and she whipped around to glare at us. Instinctively she knew my sister was not involved, and she zeroed in on my brother and I. Her large mommy hand appeared in front of us as if conjured from thin air. “A nickel each. Now.”

“But Mom!” we wined together, before arguing with the ferocity rivaling any high-powered New York defense attorney about how the other one started it.

“I don’t care who started it. I am finishing it. Now give me 2 nickels for arguing.” She stared us down with the infamous and completely unreplicatable I-am-your-mother-do-as-I-say look.

Mournfully, we tore open the once perfect and pristine brown wrappers and extract 2 nickels. We looked up at her with puppy dog eyes that silently begged for a reprieve, and she simple folded the fingers of her outstretched hand in a maneuver universally known to mean cough it up, buddy.

Ten cents. Gone, just like that. Holding back tears I stared at the depleted roll of coins. There was no way that I was going to lose one more cent. When we got to Nana and Papa’s, I would still $1.90 to buy anything I wanted.

Even candy.

It was only a half hour later that my brother flicked my ear. I frogged his shoulder. And my mother put her hand out.

By the time we arrived, my brother and I would have not but the empty paper wrappers to show for our efforts at being good. Our sorrow was quickly assuaged, however, when we remembered that Nana always had candy jars aplenty. With mouthfuls of M&Ms and gumdrops to spike our spirits—as well as our blood sugars—we soon forgot our losses and threw ourselves into the business of gorging ourselves.

For the big day, we headed over to my aunt and uncle’s house, where long card tables nearly circled the house, and cousins, and second cousins, and aunts and uncles and grandparents aplenty filled the house with noise, and laughter, and the overriding sound of football on the TV. When we sat down, the rolls would be passed, we chose between white and dark meat, jello moulds, sweet potato casseroles, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, and just about everything else you can possibly think of. The meal lasted for ages as we ate, and talked, and ate some more.

After the last dessert was eaten and darkness blanketed the cold suburban landscape, we returned to Nana and Papa’s, sated, happy, and tired.

At the end of the weekend, we piled once more into the car, waving enthusiastically at my grandparents as they stood on the stoop. As my father backed into the street and put the car in gear, my mother would turn in her seat once more. “Okay, I have a roll of nickels for each of you…”

In all trips that we took to see my mother’s parents, in all the years that we three crowded into the backseat and set off across the great mid-west, I don’t think I ever once arrived at our destination with a single cent to my name. The only consolation that I have is that my brother didn’t either ;)

So, what were your Thanksgiving Day traditions? Did you travel over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house? And more importantly, do you eat turkey or ham?

Last year's turkey

For me, I always preferred ham until the one Good Eats episode that forever changed my holiday menu. All I have to say it, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for Alton Brown and his magically recipe that truly is Romancing The Bird. The single most magnificently moist, perfectly delicious - not to mention foolproof - roast turkey recipe ever, if I do say so myself. I have made this bird five or six times now, and my only changes are that I leave out the candied ginger and have forgotten the allspice berries a time or two. If you are having turkey, perhaps you will give it a whirl!

Happy Thanksgiving, Cake Readers!


  1. I can testify to the greatness of that turkey recipe!! I loved those card table days at Uncle Mickey's too...but man oh man did I dread The Clean-Up! Hours spent over hot soapy water while the younger kids and dads got to run off and watch TV. Oh the injustice!

    It is so wonderful how it is a day all about Thanks and Family and not saturated with crazy commercialism. Unfortunately this year I will be having my Thanksgiving meal on a while I snack on pretzels I will remember the glories of Thanksgivings past and dream of the wonder of Thanksgivings to come! Hopefully we can all be together again next year!
    P.s. I used my nickels to buy bags of Blow Pops which I then took to school and sold individually at a profit. Haha!

  2. LOL, Kara, I did manage to avoid The Clean-Up most years ;) You and your goodie two shoes self, having all your nickles left over every time! Nice to see you put the money to good use, investing it like that...
    Thanksgiving dinner on a plane?? Oh, the humanity!! I'll be sure to feed you right next year :)

  3. Ever since I was about 11 or 12, our Thanksgiving has been spent with me in the kitchen...and everyone else out of it. LOL. Mom still insists on turkey, but finally, last year, I discovered the art of brining it and it was a million times better than normal. I'd still prefer ham. Or nothing. Because to me, Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes.

    We stay at home, because most years our jobs prevent us from traveling. For about six years, I always had to work on Thanksgiving (managing movie theaters), so my family would come up to see me and watch a movie, and I'd make Thanksgiving dinner for my entire staff. We have cousins with relatives in the area on the other side of their family, so they usually stop by at least for a little while. And we always watch the Cowboys game, most of the family rooting for the 'Boys, and my sister and I cheering for whatever team they're playing against.

  4. I agree, Catherine - the side dishes totally make the meal! I also agree that a brined turkey is a happy turkey - and a happy Erin!
    I always feel bad for those who have to work on Thanksgiving, but I admit I have been known to see the odd Turkey day movie :)
    I hope you have a lovely time this year!

  5. Great blog, Erin. I love the nickles. When my children get older; I'll have to try it. Traveling DVD players with screens seem to be the magic good behavior maker now days.

    I hope you have a great Thanksgiving. We'll be celebrating on Saturday instead of Thursday so that my sister will be able to enjoy it.

    We'll have to plan a lunch filled with turkey day leftovers, lol!

  6. "To this day, I swear to you that he started every fight..." That's a dirty trick spreading falsehoods about your beloved brother in a public forum. For shame, for shame...

  7. Thanks for writing this blog. I had forgotten about all those wonderful memories. I think my favorite part of those weekends was the day after and our shopping trip to the mall-girls only! If memory serves me correctly, the guys did a marathon day at the movies. And then of course, there was all the leftovers.

  8. Living six hours from relatives...every single holiday was spent traveling. Usually late at night where I would fall asleep and magically wake up and be full of energy at 3am. When my parents would beg me to go back to sleep because they were tired.

    I had no I entertained myself by making up stories and sleeping. To this day my parents worry about me driving for longer than 30 minutes because all I ever do on trips is sleep. Hey, they started it.

  9. Oh, Marquita, if only they had had TVs in cars when we were young! These kids don't know how good they got it, lol!
    I hope we can do our turkey day lunch soon! I'll check my work schedule and get back to you :)

  10. Falsehoods?!? I think not, brother mine. The dirty trick is in being the instigator allll those years ;)

  11. Aww, Aunt Bev, I'm glad you joined me on my little 'trip' :) Those are wonderful memories for me - including the shopping! - and I'm happy to relive them this way :) Thanks for stopping by!

    Too funny, Beth! Car sleeping comes and goes for me - I'm generally too concerned about the driver to let myself relax! With all our relatives splashed across the US, we do a lot of late night / early morning driving as well.
    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  12. What wonderful stories you tell, Erin. I'll have to try the turkey recipe sometime when I'm cooking in my own house. We're at Grandma's this year. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  13. We are not bug turkey eaters in my family. We are Italian so we always had two dinners: Italian at 1:00 pm and turkey at 4:00 pm or so. Give or take a little.

    Growing up my mom's brother (my uncle) and his family of four would drive the 8 hours to our house and spend the holiday weekend. We always liked when our cousins came down. Sleepovers with sleeping bags, in our tiny city house. Nothing like it.

    I miss those days. Now, we all have our own families and traditions and we have cut out the turkey dinner completely.

    Your turkey looks fantastic! And your story reminds me of family vacations. My dad was Mr. Griswold.

  14. Thanks, Clarissa :) I hope you guys had a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving at grandma's!

    Two Thanksgiving dinners, Jenny?? I would absolutely bust! What wonderful memories you must have with all the family and food and traditions :) I'd love to hear more about your dad's Mr. Griswold tendancies, lol. I hope you guys had a great Thanksgiving, even if you didn't have turkey :)