by Grace Polk
Thanksgiving at our house was a wonderful holiday, bringing together family and close friends for a feast of gratitude. Someone always brought a flower arrangement, but most of the work fell to my mother who put the tables together for 10-12 guests, found just the right tablecloth and the linen napkins. As a little girl, I polished the silverware, and helped set the table.
For us, Thanksgiving meant going to church which included hearing the Presidential Proclamation, then rushing home to finish the preparations for the afternoon dinner. When I was small, I got to go to the home of my parents' friends who lived on Central Park West to see the early morning Thanksgiving Day Parade, so much better than standing out in the cold. And then we went to church.
The night before Thanksgiving, we prepared the dishes our family liked best. The refrigerator filled, bowls were placed out in the front porch on the ironing board. Our guests always asked for creamed spinach, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pineapple, string beans with mushrooms and fried onions, and for dessert, key lime pie or Sacher torte.
My mother prepared the stuffing in advance, and early in the morning, filled the bird. In the neck, there was a rice stuffing, with dried apricots, raisins and other sweetmeats. In the main cavity, there was bread stuffing, with celery, onion, and sometimes chestnuts, or sausage. One year, our turkey was so big that we had to take it to the bakery on Skillman Avenue near 46th Street, where there was a huge oven, and as a courtesy, customers were allowed to bring their oversized birds in for roasting. Once stuffed, my father delivered the turkey in its standard navy blue roasting pan with white flecks to the bakery. When he picked it up that afternoon, he bundled it in blankets and newspaper to keep warm until dinner, and brought it home the short distance balanced on a shopping cart.
Kitchen aromas were enhanced by the arrival of our turkey. Aunts and cousins, friends and guests, eager to taste my mother's famous stuffings were seated around the table, making their way through the first course. My father took out the electric knife and carved the bird. Serving dishes were passed around, the vegetables, the sliced turkey, and then - the two stuffings - but wait - inside this bird was a single bland Pepperidge-Farm stuffing - this turkey was clearly not ours! My mother let out a shriek. How could this have happened?!
A phone call to the bakery revealed that a neighbor, Mrs. Waber from across the courtyard, had picked up her navy blue enamel roasting pan at just about the same time my father had come in to pick up ours. A phone call to Mrs. Waber from my mother next morning revealed only high praise for her two delicious stuffings but no apparent feelings of guilt! The phone call did nothing to smooth my mother’s ruffled feathers.
My mother had misgivings about using the baker's services thereafter, and relations with the shopkeeper remained strained. From then on, a cousin offered to bring the roast turkey, relieving my mother of a lot of work and the memory of that sad day. The rest of us still tell the tale.
Grace grew up on 46th Street and went to all the local schools, starting out in pre-school with her teacher-neighbor Mrs. Waber!