Grandma and Grandpa Delorm lived in a hamlet in the North Country of New York about fifty miles from Montreal, Canada; a blistering cold spot around Thanksgiving time. The small white farm house was positioned at the intersection of Mason and Main Streets near the bridge over the Saranac River.
The front porch and sitting-room’s bay window were situated across the street from the local undertaker and funeral home; perfectly located to observe the goings-on of her neighbors and bereaved families. The little house was very special to my Grandmother. She was born there and returned as an adult with her husband and her only child, my father, to care for her invalid mother. She died in that house, in the room where she was born. She is the little girl near the fence in the picture.
Every Sunday morning of my childhood, my parents would pile the family into the car to drive to the village for church services that always ended at Grandma’s house. My siblings and I would barrel out of the car to see who could get to Grandma’s cookie jar first. My mother wasn’t fond of the visits and her voice followed us up the back steps, “Don’t get too settled, we aren’t staying long.” She had worked hard all week in our “Mom and Pop” grocery store and those Sunday visits cramped her day off. Mom didn’t want to hear about what degenerate returned to town for his mother’s funeral or what “town tramp” was pregnant again.
As a child, Grandma Delorm seemed perfect to me. She gave each of us a hug and a kiss and made us feel so loved. She had soft fluffy white hair that felt like a cloud and seemed to glow with angelic light. Her smile warmed my heart.
After Grandpa Delorm died, Christmas arrived in our driveway at some unknown pre-dawn hour where Grandma sat quietly in her warm souped-up Chevy with the glasspack mufflers and a giant sound system in the trunk – she told the used car salesman she wanted a car with a little zip. We had the only Granny that laid rubber at every intersection. As far as we knew she never turned on the radio.
We were not to let Grandma know we knew she was out there waiting for Christmas to start until my mother had her first cup of coffee “in the peace and quiet.” Hard to miss Grandma with that race car rumbling in the driveway. When Mom turned on the kitchen light, we would rush the car, often stumbling through deep snow, to help Grandma carry her huge wicker laundry basket filled with gifts.
Easter was great. Lots of candy in the baskets. But nothing matched Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house for me. It was obvious that not everyone in my family was as enthusiastic as I was about it.
We, Grandma’s grandchildren, rarely used her front door. The back door, as mentioned before, led to the cookie jar. We were usually pretty amped-up on Thanksgiving. I could smell the dressing and roasting turkey before we pulled in the yard; leftover memories from the previous Thanksgiving.
We would blast into the kitchen with all the excitement of childhood, ignoring my mother’s plaintive attempts to keep our fingers off the cookie jar. The air was rich with the roasted vegetables, turkey, and dressing. Some of us would head into the sitting-room because we knew we would find bowls of mints and nuts. But first, I had to stop in the formal dining room. Oh! It was a glorious sight! A room set aside just for eating! My childhood home was very small and we ate on bar stools in front of the kitchen counter.
The old oak table, spread wide with every extra leaf, filled the tiny room and was wearing its bright white tablecloth. Grandma’s best dishes encircled the perimeter and shiny silverware sat royally on real cloth napkins. The light from the little chandelier made the crystal water glasses sparkle. In the center of the table sat the empty turkey platter, fresh dinner rolls with their yeasty breath, and every size and shape of empty serving dish. There on the sideboard were the three pies- apple, pumpkin and mincemeat along with wine glasses and Daddy’s new bottle of Mogen David wine.
Satisfied that everything was in its right place, I would join the crowd of Grandma and Grandpa’s relatives overflowing the sitting room. Grandpa’s side sparse with his lone brother and wife sandwiched in with my Grandmother’s siblings, spouses and my father’s cousins. It wouldn’t be long before my brother, Tommy, and I fought over control of the nutcracker and the large bowl of shelled nuts. My younger sister, Debbie, too little to trust with the nut picks and my youngest sister, Laurie, not yet a twinkle in my father’s eye. The chatter and mayhem would come to a dead stop with the announcement that dinner was on the table.
Returning to the dining room, the table had turned in a colorful magical kingdom. The bright orange sweet potato casserole sat next to Grandma’s proverbial green Jello salad usually with walnuts and fruit cocktail. The empty turkey platter was now overflowing with sliced turkey, the legs reaching out for the giant bowl of gravy. Fragrant dressing had been hiding in the carcass but now sat exposed in two bowls, one at each end of the table. Molded cranberry sauce lay like toppled dominoes on a plate.
Grandma said grace and Daddy offered wine and a lively toast. Soon the serving dishes flew in a clockwise circle around the table.
As wonderful as the dinner itself was, the real thanks in Thanksgiving existed in the family stories that flowed over the table. It was my chance to learn the history of my French-Canadian ancestry. To my family, I have always been an oddball; more interested in old things and old people. But years later, while researching my genealogy, those precious conversations would provide clues leading me up the Saint Lawrence River all the way to France.
Over the years, the elders have gone on to their reward. Grandma’s house is gone; replaced by a parking lot. My siblings and I have our own families and moved in separate directions. Long gone are the extended family gatherings and conversations. In a world where I can pick up a phone and instantly talk with my son in Europe or scan Facebook for pictures, we rarely gather with each other due to distance and expense.
Now as an old woman myself, I am so thankful for my Grandmother and her gifts of family and love. Those precious Thanksgiving memories have warmed me over and over. The smell of roast turkey and dressing sends me back to a sweet time where life was slower and simpler. Back to a small town where everyone knew your name and what you were doing; whether you wanted them to know it or not. Let me add, that I have a better perspective on my mother’s need for peace and quiet.
I hope you have a special memory in your life that continues to bring joy.
I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.