Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Turkey Dinner

My grandparents' church held a Turkey Dinner every year on the third Wednesday in October.  The Turkey Dinner was as sacred to our family as Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Grandma would call up and say, "I'm buying the tickets how many do I need to get?"  Our family of four would attend, meeting Grandma and Grandpa at their church, where we would meet our cousins, and then all of us would wait until our number was called on the church P.A. system, like customers at the deli counter.

The Turkey Dinner had originally been a chicken dinner I learned from my grandma.  "The church has been having the dinner since before Grandpa and I were married,"  she said.  "Your great-grandma would help out too."  Before the fellowship hall had been added the turkeys were cooked in people's homes and they would bring the turkey to the church when it was finished cooking.  I could only imagine how glad everyone was when the turkeys could be cooked at the church.
My grandfather would come to the church earlier in the week to shred the cabbage for the cole slaw.  He wouldn't let anyone else do it because he was afraid someone would cut their hands on the homemade mandolin slicer.  The mandolin had belonged to his parents and eventually he donated it to the town historical society.  Once a year he would go to the historical society and take back the mandolin to shred the cabbage.  I can hear him now, warning someone in the kitchen, "Now don't monkey with this thing.  I'll do the cabbage so no one gets hurt."
My grandma would serve a shift in the cranberry sauce and cole slaw station.  While I was in college I was able to help her serve at the dinner.  Every time someone would finish their cole slaw or cranberry sauce the empty serving dish would come back to the church kitchen and we would refill it.  I loved this time with Gram.  I could ask her questions about her life with Grandpa or anything else, it was just us together.

"Number 72," the voice would call.  Our family would stand up and say farewell to friends we had been visiting with in the church sanctuary to go into the church fellowship hall to find our table.  The fellowship hall would be decorated with a Thanksgiving theme complete with gourds, pumpkins, and pilgrims.
The room would be filled wall to wall with banquet tables that sat 10-12 people, each table set for dinner.  The tables would have a pitcher of water, a pitcher of coffee and styrofoam cups, butter and rolls, cranberry sauce, and cole slaw.  A server would come by our table and ask if the kids would like milk and away they would go to get the main course.
Two or three servers would come back with bowls of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and of course the turkey on a platter.  Our family would immediately decide if we were going to pass the dishes clockwise or counter-clockwise.  With a few false starts we would begin passing the dishes to one another.  As soon as the server saw we were low they would come and replenish our platters.
When my grandfather was at the table person after person would come by to say hello.  Most of the time the person would come and give Grandpa some good natured teasing, which he easily gave back.  The visitor would greet our family and ask how we all were doing, often commenting on someone's red hair, how much someone had grown since last year, etc.

I loved the Turkey Dinner.  My grandparents' church had been established in 1845 and was the first Protestant Church in the area.  On the walls in the fellowship hall were pictures of confirmation classes and church activities from years past.  My two favorite things on the walls were a painting depicting church members arriving for a Sunday service and a bicentennial quilt with a square dedicated to each of the families who had been members of the church.  Each block had the family's name and the years they attended the church all the way back to 1845.  Our family had nine different blocks for the various branches of our family.  I would read each block carefully trying to absorb the history.
The Turkey Dinner would end with a slice of pie.  We all knew I would have the pumpkin pie, my dad would have the apple pie, and my grandpa would have a slice of cherry pie.   I sometimes wondered if the ladies who served the pie kept a slice of cherry pie off to the side for Grandpa.
As we would say our goodbyes in the church foyer we would be reminded to buy a raffle ticket for the quilt that would be awarded to one lucky winner at the church bazaar in two weeks.   The church bazaar was another tradition in our family among the women.  But that is a tale for another time.

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