The latest American Farm Bureau Federation price survey for Thanksgiving
came out, and the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $48.90– or less than $5.00 per person. Of course, that is without alcohol and other frills–and I’m wondering if the dessert is humble pie—but the low cost is impressive.
I looked up the prices for 1961. I was eleven years old then, sitting at a long, crowded table in Granny Faye’s house. She wasn’t much for hosting events, but even after my grandpa died, she kept up the Thanksgiving tradition. Apparently back then she could buy turkey at 35 cents a pound, potatoes at 8 cents a pound, and two cans of pumpkin for 29 cents.
Granny’s two sons both farmed within a half mile of the home place. Farms were closer together then, and these were filled with kids—fourteen between the two families. Most of us were boys growing up under the influence of Moe, Larry, and Curly, but we managed to sit quietly during the prayer, and we appreciated the accordion-paper turkeys and pumpkins that made up the table décor. No one wrote texts or tweets as we shaped our mashed potatoes into lake beds for the gravy. Our only snap chats were when one of us would flick a small roll at a brother and call him a dork–but I have no Instagram photos to prove how immature we were.
We did not watch pro football on the black and white TV, but cousin Terry might have a beat up pigskin on his lap. We were itching to get outside to play ball—what kid really likes cranberry sauce anyway? A promise of pumpkin pie is the only thing that kept us from bolting.
I have little recall of the meal chatter, but Granny might inform us that turkeys were not always the guest of honor at Thanksgiving. “Back then,” she’d say, “we used to butcher and dress barnyard chickens for the feast. Not much fun steaming and plucking feathers on a chilly morning.” We kids had been present at poultry harvest times, so a cousin might start describing the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off ritual until he was shushed.
As the autumn sun shone through the large south windows, Dad might point out, “Even though today is perfect for football, we’ve seen Thanksgivings when the ground was covered with snow. When I was about your age, the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard surprised us all. Farmers were caught out in the cornfields, hunters
were nearly frozen to death in duck blinds, and chickens were stuck solid to their roosts. No weather forecasts to warn us back then.” Even at that age, I’d seen a Thanksgiving or two when the creek banks were lined with thin ice, and the morning sun lit up frost that coated woven wire fences and corn stalks left in the field after the harvest.
But this day had the brilliant light of a slanting autumn sun, and as soon as we hit the yard, it was all pass, run, argue, punt, fumble, and argue some more as we conveniently ignored the fact that someone was cleaning up after the big event. Back then, adults were like benevolent extraterrestrials who usually stayed in their own universe—until chore time.“The cow needs milkin’,” some galactic overlord would announce. “And the steers in the lot across the road need five buckets of grain and eight bales of hay.” No holiday shopping excuses to save us. The corporate Madmen of the 60s hadn’t come up with Black Friday. We were bright enough kids, but the word “shopping” was not in our vocabulary, and merchants back then didn’t even think of hoisting Christmas on us until Thanksgiving was over.
The day was for celebrating family and the harvest–and for kids playing outside in the sunshine or snow. And the evening was for eating the meal I liked best–the leftovers. Dark turkey meat, warmed-up dressing with gravy on it, Mom’s homemade bread, a slice of pumpkin pie. Living was easy.
Until the morning after Thanksgiving. No school, but Dad–the human alarm clock–would call into the bedroom, “Time to get up, boys,” and after our eggs, toast, and orange juice, we put on five-buckle boots and headed to the hog house. Grunting pigs, a layer of muck, and worn pitchforks awaited us. Now that’s what I call a real Black Friday.
by dan gogerty (top pic from fb.org, turkey graphic from blogher.com, Julia Child photo from pinterest.com, and cow pic from flickr-cushingmemorial.com)