|Cousin Jim Rhodes (photographer) and Evan, Mariposa 2019|
|BIL Tim getting ready to deep fry the turkey, 2007|
|Sister Barb and Dad, 2007|
|Kitchen in Moorestown with mom, 2010|
|Turkey overload, Chris 2010|
A year ago we were filling up our pantry with a 20-pound turkey, fixings for 15, and preparing to host a wedding renewal for 70 the Saturday after Thanksgiving
This week, we’ve snagged a coveted 12 pounder, a turkey small enough for Chris and me to roast and not feel too overwhelmed by leftovers.
It’s COVID-19 time, folks. And we’re staying home, no guests.
I’ve made peace with missing the big hoopla for my favorite holiday.
Growing up, my Grandmom Hencinski held Thanksgiving in her row house in Camden New Jersey. My cousins and their folks, Uncle Stanley and Aunt Jo, joined us. My cousins, brother Fred, and I played together down in the basement where we threw darts and roughhoused. The adults drank beers and shots of Four Roses bourbon upstairs. Grandmom had a small galley kitchen that she presided over making the most remarkable food. We ate all American classics—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, mushrooms, cranberry sauce, peas, olives, sweet potatoes, creamed onions, and pumpkin and apple pies. I don’t recall my folks bringing a dish—so it might be that Grandmom prepared everything. The meal was served on her China—pink flowers and green leaves. I have this set and we proudly use it every year.
|Nephew Mike, my dad, Fred, and Evan, 2007|
In 1964, only my dad, brother, and I ate hamburgers for Thanksgiving. My mother “wasn’t hungry”—delivering my little sister at 1:30 am that night. My sister Barbie always had to weigh celebrating her birthday with Thanksgiving. She was not fond of the holiday, neither is my mother, mostly because it meant cooking which both of them usually avoided.
My father took over Thanksgiving when Grandmom Hencinski died. Then, I was his sous chef helping chop the celery and onions for the stuffing as well as making the gravy. My mother made a pasty dish of creamed onions and a mushroom gravy. Dad and I did the rest.
|Pop pop and Grandmom Hencinski with me, 1953|
|They were party people!|
When we were all married with children, Thanksgiving was still at my parents’ house in Moorestown NJ, but we all contributed. SIL Linda made a pie and brought a salad. My brother brought beer. My sister Barb and her husband Tim pitched in with the appetizers and serving the food. Barb often made the mashed potatoes. My mother, Linda, and Chris were on clean up crew.
My husband Chris (known as The Nicest Guy in the World) once complimented my mother’s thick, gummy creamed onions. The rest of us groaned, as no one ate them yet year after year, they appeared on the table. Every year following, my mother would announce that she would be making Chris’s favorite dish—the creamed onions. Finally, we let her know she no longer needed to make them, as he was being polite.
|Dana and Evan, Riverside CA, 2018|
|Nephew Chris, Evan, Jug Bay hike, 2011|
After dinner, the family adjourned to the living room where my mother played the piano and we all sang old-fashioned songs---“Beautiful Brown Eyes” and some early Christmas carols. One year, during the singing, there was a plumbing emergency in the kitchen. The sprayer hose had broken off and water was jetting up to the ceiling! We tried not to alarm our older parents, but the situation wasn’t good. We needed to cut off the water to the sink---but there was no shutoff valve. We had to resort to the whole house water shut off valve. Fred, an engineer, drew diagrams of how to fix it. My BIL Tim, an HVAC contractor, talked about holiday rates and what it would take to get him to fix it. Meanwhile, Chris and I –the scientists—got out the wrenches and had it shut off. We all laughed a lot.
As my father aged, I provided more support, arriving a day or two early helping with the shopping, meal design, and then the whole meal. Dana and Evan joined with their cousin Chris in helping more and more. The meals were sometimes simpler and other years I experimented with Brussels sprouts and different types of cranberry sauces.
When Chris’s parents and his aunts and uncles all passed away, his cousins and sisters joined together to hold the Swarth-Childs Thanksgiving around the country in each others homes every other year starting in 2005. It’s been a truly great new tradition. Chris and I missed the first year held in St. Louis because I was recovering from knee surgery. We’ve hosted two of these Thanksgivings in 2011 and 2019. We still hold to traditional menus and add walks in local parks, visits to art museums, and a kick off meal the Wednesday night prior. Enjoy the many photos cousin Jim Rhodes has archived to chronicle the family events.
|Swarth Childs Family 2003|
|Salads at Judy and Peter's New Mexico, 2007|
|Dana, Sam, Evan, Melissa, cousins, Oregon 2009|
|Silver Spring, note china, 2011|
|Our house Silver Spring 2011|
|Chef Evan, Silver Spring 2011|
|Dana, SIL Judy, Nephew Chris, 2011|
|Yosemite Pre-Thanksgiving 2013|
At Thanksgiving, we all think about those we’ll miss at the table: my father, Chris’s parents, aunts and uncles, my sister Barb and her husband Tim, my nephew Chris, and of course the generation before of grandparents. Sadly, we’ll also be missing Evan’s now ex-wife Meghan through divorce, and of course anyone who’s joined our celebrations as honorary family members in years past.
|BIL Keith, Niece Melissa with pet rat, Cousin Eric, 2009|
With 67 Thanksgivings under my belt, I can take a break and take a breath.
We’ll be back together in 2021 God willing and the creek don’t rise.