Thursday, November 28, 2013

Past Thanksgivings part 1 (1970's in the U.P.)

In the 70's and early 80's was the "childhood" of someone born in 1969.  The typical 70's stuff (bell bottoms, shag haircuts, huge sideburns for the men, the BeeGee's and let's not forget my mother's belly dancing lessons..) really had no affect on the Thanksgiving traditions, which were actually land-locked in time and space of the early 1950's.

You see, we had a "cottage" as it is called in other parts of the world.  In the U.P. of Michigan (that strangely shaped land attached to Wisconsin that appears to be floating in the Great Lakes) had it's own vocabulary for everything, including cottages.  We called them "camps".  It wasn't a camp site or a camp ground or even a resort.  It was a small building in the deep woods which was different than home.

Nobody ever "lived" at camp, but everyone had one.  "Camps" were most often located on a lake somewhere, generally somewhere between 10 minutes or an hour away from home.  After all,  "getting away from it all" shouldn't take all day.

For Thanksgiving, we met at my grandparent's camp.  Even though there was electricity in the 1970's in the U.P., we liked to have camps where the electric lines didn't reach.   Technically, today you would call what we did "living off the grid".  Although, there was no formal name for what we didn't have.  We had gas lights, wood heat with a potbelly stove, gas stove and refrigerator as well as a wood burning sauna for a bath.  The bathroom was an outhouse with the indoor toilet installed a little later on--flushed by water, pumped by the hand pump and dumped in.  There was a TV which only went on for the 6:00 news and was operated by a car battery.   There was a generator, but that was only used for special occasions, which, in my mind-- never happened.

For past-times at the camp, there was a lot of card playing, cribbage and other board games.  By Thanksgiving, it was cold, but not cold enough to go snowmobiling on the the lake.  That was for Christmas.  The deer hunting season was in full swing, and Thanksgiving was always an evening meal, to accommodate for the hunt.  Finding things to do at camp was never a mystery.  Filling the wood box, pumping water and filling up the flush buckets were always a fun past-time.  I remember the reactions of random guests at the camp.  They "loved" doing camp chores.  And they would be asking all of these questions about pumping water and saunas and such.  Even for the typical Yoopers, we were odd beyond the norm, I guess.

At Thanksgiving, we did all of the traditional Thanksgiving food--at the camp.  The gas powered refrigerator was very small, so we had many coolers to accommodate all of the food.  My mother was always in charge of the food.  She was very organized then and now.  My grandmothers both helped.  (My dad's parents came out also)

I remember what "my job" was.  I had the non-electric beaters, and I whipped the real whipped cream for the pies.  It took a little bit of time, but eventually it got whipped.

My grandma made her giblet gravy, the rutabagas, and the cranberry relish.  My grandpa made the stuffing for the turkey.   My other grandmother brought a relish tray of fresh vegetables.  My mother did everything else.  But that seemed normal to me.

One thing that seemed odd to me is that the children were served wine for the holidays.  I guess we were European.

Out of all of those years at the camp for Thanksgiving, only one year stands out in my mind.  Perhaps because there was a guest who was not a family member.

My mother reconnected with her old band teacher from high school and invited him to our family dinner.  My brother and I were probably 8 and 10.  His name was "Cap Daily" which seemed like an odd name for anyone.  During the meal, he was rapping out rhythms on the table that we were trying to imitate.  I don't ever remember rapping out drum beats during dinner, and this was great fun.  Usually after a few glasses of wine, my grandfather would break out into song, usually at the table.

Here again, this all seemed normal to me at the time.  My grandpa enjoyed what he called "the Boy Scout songs" of his youth.  I think my grandpa was the Grand Poopah of all Boy Scouts.  Perhaps he was a founding member?  I'm sure his little green knapsack is enshrined in a museum somewhere.  But I digress.

The singing at the table.  It was normal.  It was loud and rowdy and usually ended with a big cheer and a pounding fist.  And the first few songs were in English, but after that..  well.. German, Hungarian.. Russian..  My grandfather knew about seven languages. And he could ask for a cocktail in about 15.

Although it was useless trying to ask anyone for anything in English or any other language with this much noise going on.  To say that we are a "loud" family would be a bit of an understatement.  Have you seen my big fat Greek wedding?  O.K. then.

But back to the visit from the "visitor" Cap Daily.  Cap was good at rapping out tunes, but he did this thing that neither my brother nor I will forget and he will ever live in infamy, in our minds.

Are you ready?

He stirred up all of his food into one big mash on his plate.  There was mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry relish, rutabagas and whatever else in one big brown heap on his plate.

My brother and I just stared with our mouths agape wondering how anyone could handle their food "touching" let alone congealing into a mud-like mixture.. and on such a sacred day with sacred food, such as .. Thanksgiving??!!

We talked about it for years afterwards.

Remember that Cap Daily guy who mushed all his food together during Thanksgiving..that one year??

As we both crinkled up our noses and stuck our tongues to air out the apparent gag reflex the lone memory created.

As you can see, it was a tough childhood, with many hard experiences such as this one.

Wow. And I'm not even sure we even gave thanks for the food in those days.  If we did, I was usually called upon to do it.  I only wished (back then) that "Now I lay me down to sleep" could somehow have had a food and/or Thanksgiving version, since that was my one and only "go to" prayer in those days.

1 comment:

Herding Grasshoppers said...

OH MY GOODNESS! I wish I was there! Food-mixing-together = NO NO NO! Okay, I've moderated. Cranberry on turkey. Gravy on potato-turkey-stuffing, etc. But all in a heap?

I love the picture of your "camp" - it sounds wonderful :D