450 px Mom's photo as a girl

Thanksgiving Memory: The Heirloom Platter


My mother wrote this essay the first Thanksgiving after her mother—Nannie to all of us—passed away. I share her loving thoughts as you gather with your clan. Blessed be the ties that bind.

Once again, the platter held the Thanksgiving turkey as it had so many times before. But this time, other hands prepared the bird and the feast, and other hands carefully garnished it with little bouquets of parsley—so the same yet so different. Oh, I had prepared the bird and the feast for years now, but always left it to Mama to put the final touches about and to then, in a final rite of inspection, state, “The turkey looks lovely—so well browned. Sistah, I believe it’s the best you’ve ever done.”

Now, I looked at the finished turkey embellished with parsley—staring blankly at it all and the platter once again holding the center of the holiday feast. Indeed, I thought, it would be a very tasty feast, but somehow it wasn’t the same. I wondered whether Mama would have been pleased with its appearance—probably so. I quickly carried it to the table, not daring to tarry with reminiscences of the platter and past turkeys.

There is something almost holy about pieces of furniture, jewelry, silver, or china handed down for a long time. The Haviland platter—an unusually large size and part of quite a large collection of china—was first a wedding gift to my grandmother. The first turkeys that graced it for holiday dinners were undoubtedly wild ones killed by some unknown hunter in Tennessee. I wondered what garnish, if any, was used. Certainly, parsley was not available in November and December. I am sure my own mother added that touch. She bought her bird from the market in Atlanta already killed and dressed—but fresh.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas that I recall, we had a beautifully cooked turkey placed on the revered platter and adorned with parsley—I can remember a few times young celery leaves. I will never know whether that was because money was scarce to buy “extras” or whether the parsley was scarce!

My father always praised the beautiful bird and then began the slow and painstaking ritual of carving. I can still remember watching with watering mouth and hunger pangs, as Mama never allowed a nibble after breakfast so we would “save up” to enjoy the feast. My portion was always the giant drumstick with some of the meat cut off. My father, looking through his bifocals, carefully carved, and in his own manner, he made it something of a theatrical production. My own surgeon husband carves with deft strokes, and behold, it is done in record time. Either way, I feel sorry for those in modern America who are leaving behind this legacy for an already disjointed bird, or worse yet, only a vague memory of the lovely buffet at the country club or the “traditional feast” at some restaurant.

Something is lost when you never know the crisp brown of the turkey skin stretched tightly between thigh and breast or have the fun of a child (or an adult) pinching in hidden places the succulent morsels underneath “where it doesn’t show.” I am thankful for the cherished platter and for all the memories of past holidays that it holds. Some holidays and some turkeys were better than others. Nevertheless, the platter still holds in our family a special sense of awe.

Perhaps one day other hands will prepare the bird for the feast, and I will be the one whose only duty is to arrange the parsley and lift the spirits of the tired, younger cook by saying, “I think it’s the prettiest we’ve ever cooked.”

It is a beautiful circle.

Footnote: The first time I lived in another state at age 22, I invited four friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. My mother made it seem so easy. However, I ended up calling her every 15 minutes in a panic about the next step. I suppose my own family sat down for their dinner at midnight. The phone bill was $125. She paid for that, too.



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