Opinion: Thanksgiving memories

  • A Thanksgiving dinner is displayed on a table in Concord, N.H., on Oct. 22, 2012. Matthew Mead / AP

Published: 11/23/2022 6:00:24 AM
Modified: 11/23/2022 6:00:13 AM

Parker Potter is a former archaeologist and historian, and a retired lawyer. He is currently a semi-professional dogwalker who lives and works in Contoocook.

The approach of Thanksgiving brings on a lifetime of memories. By telling some of my favorite Thanksgiving stories, I hope to inspire readers of this piece to recall their own Thanksgiving memories, or to create new ones this year.

The Thanksgivings of my youth were all about the traditional meal, and while my mother is long gone, I still remember the aroma of celery sauteing in butter as she began to make stuffing, and I will never forget the flavor of her dill-infused coleslaw or the sight of the cut-glass bowl she always served it in.

As a Turkey Day aside, my mother loved telling a story about a friend of hers who, when she prepared her first Thanksgiving dinner, bought a fresh turkey, was flummoxed by the feather stubble, lathered the bird with her husband’s shaving brush, and took care of the stubble with his straight razor. But I digress.

My freshman year in college, the dining hall served Cornish game hens for the last dinner before Thanksgiving, and two days later, Thanksgiving dinner was the first meal I ate with my whole family since before Labor Day. The big bird was especially delicious that year.

My first year in graduate school, I didn’t visit my family for Thanksgiving; I drove back to my old college town where I had Thanksgiving dinner with a former professor and his family and then had a second one with the family of a girl down there I was dating at the time. My former professor was – and is – a world-class turkey hunter, and our main course was a bird that he had harvested and smoked himself. No butterball on his table.

When I was in Maryland doing my dissertation research, I had another two-dinner Thanksgiving. Early in the day, my housemate’s girlfriend (now his wife) made a Thanksgiving feast for my housemate, me, and two of his friends. She didn’t even stay to eat. After the meal, the four of us looked like beached whales on the living room floor. But I had to rouse myself from my tryptophan stupor so I could drive an hour and have a second Thanksgiving with friends of the family who eventually became my in-laws. A couple of years later, when my then-future wife was in graduate school, our Thanksgiving was turkey TV dinner in a dorm room. Due perhaps to the context, they were delicious.

Some of my favorite New Hampshire Thanksgivings are three or four we shared with Chinese friends, the family who opened the now-defunct Red Star Chinese restaurant in Contoocook. We served all the traditional dishes, and it was always awe inspiring to watch Chao chow down on a second or third helping of mashed potatoes. Then there was the year we bought a fifty-pound bird from some turkey-raising friends. It was a struggle to roast him (some dismemberment was required) but it was no struggle to eat him. While he was reported to have been quite the bully at the feed trough, he was the tenderest turkey I ever tasted.

These little vignettes, however, are just appetizers. Now I turn to two of my most memorable Thanksgivings of all.

My junior year in college, as November was winding down, the girlfriend of one of my buddies invited me to her home in Nashville for Thanksgiving; she was looking for someone to share the driving with her in her 1963 Corvette. I had a big anthropology paper to write, so I declined. But when I checked my checkbook and discovered that my funds for the month were going to run out before the month ran out, I changed my mind and went to Nashville.

Driving the Corvette was a blast. Thanksgiving dinner was in a restaurant, which was a first for me. I spent most of the weekend writing my paper in the library of the John A. Gupton Mortuary College, which was run by the family of my buddy’s girlfriend. When I needed a break from anthropology, I just thumbed through some back issues of Southern Mortician magazine. I never did figure out the difference between a southern mortician and a northern one, but I think it may have something to do with adding a sprig of mint to the embalming fluid. The highlight of the drive back to college was finding a gas station that sold Billy beer. Remember that?

My best Thanksgiving ever was in 1995, when I was working at Highway View Farm. I did twelve milkings a week, but because I was also teaching two nights a week at Plymouth State University, it took me seven days rather than six to do my twelve shifts in the milking parlor, and when Thanksgiving rolled around, I had gone since mid-July, more than 130 days, without a day off from the farm.

The farm gave everyone one shift off for Thanksgiving (plus a turkey), and since I usually taught on Thursday nights, one shift off gave me a full day off. I raked leaves in the morning sun. I watched football in the afternoon. Nancy Jo roasted the turkey from work and served it with all the trimmings. It was just a normal Thanksgiving which, under the circumstances, made it one of the happiest days of my life.

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