Saturday, November 24, 2012

THE HOLIDAY WHEN MAMA COOKED OUR GOOSE...

A Thanksgiving dinner never passes when I don't think about the year a fine Thanksgiving bird became a gift for our Thanksgiving dinner.

It was the mid-1940s, and I was five or six years old. The all-American Thanksgiving holiday was generally a time of thankfulness, family gatherings and church services, and dinners were as bountiful as families could make them. The star of the dinner table was usually poultry; most often a big roast turkey.

That was not to be true for us that year, however. No turkey or any bird of its ilk was destined for our holiday table.Times were hard for a lot of families, and we were no exception. Turkeys were a luxury we could not afford, and Mom had told us we would have to work with what we had and let the spirit of the holiday make up for it. Still, that humble circumstance led to a Thanksgiving I vividly remember after all these years..


As Thanksgiving week arrived, our family's menu expectations took a sudden turn for the better. One of my father's fellow railroad workers---who was also a farmer---called our house to say that a plump Thanksgiving bird would be personally delivered to our door, as his gift to our family. My mother was excited at the prospect of the fine feast she could make of that, and she began to plan creative trimmings for the grand occasion. When the bird arrived, I must say it was magnificent indeed.


As my mother stepped out to the doorstep to receive the bird, she sharply drew her breath before she extended greetings to our benefactor and thanked him for the generous donation of this fine LIVE GOOSE! As it honk-honk-honked and marched around and preened its snowy feathers for us, we children were delighted. As far as we could see, we had just been gifted with our own special holiday surprise---a pet goose!


Mom saw to it that our goose was properly secured in the basement, and for reasons we couldn't figure out, she nervously awaited my father's return from work. She told us it would be Dad's job to deal with "the goose problem," though what that problem could be, we didn't know.


If my father was surprised to find the prime feature of our Thanksgiving dinner was still ALIVE, he didn't show it; he took my mother's hand and, out of our hearing, told her something in a tone so low we couldn't hear him. It seemed to reassure my mother; in later years, we'd learn that he'd told Mom she wouldn't be responsible for rendering that great bird lifeless for its holiday destiny, nor would he. He would discreetly engage a local farmer to perform that task and make it ready for her culinary talents.


We kids began to talk about the prospects for our future with our fine new pet. We opened the basement door constantly to peek at the bird, marvelling at its size; it seemed larger than we were! Could it fly, we wondered? Would it need training like a dog? Would we have to build a "goose house" for it?...

A day or two later, we peeked at the goose before breakfast and discovered it had disappeared! Who had stolen it, or who had left the door ajar and allowed it to escape? Would we ever see it again? Would it find its way back to us?


We didn't realize it at the time, but our goose was returned onThanksgiving eve, brought by the farmer to our door---dead, bled, and well-hidden, in a heavy sack which Mom whisked quickly out of sight. Later when we saw what we thought was a turkey in our refrigerator, we decided it was the Thanksgiving bird promised by Dad's friend, who must have delivered it in the night while we kids were still asleep.


On Thanksgiving morning, Mom rose early to begin the dinner preparations. Soon the comforting aromas of this holiday permeated every corner of our house. At dinner, my father carefully transported the big cooked bird to the table. He led the blessing, adding with what was probably a slip of the tongue: "We also thank you, Lord, for the good friend whose generosity put this handsome GOOSE upon our holiday table."


The happy child-chatter stopped abruptly. THIS WAS OUR GOOSE! It really was a beauty on our table; like something on a holiday magazine cover. But if Mom had created a masterpiece, its magnificence was lost on us. Here sat our goose before us on the table, and it was being CARVED for us to eat for our Thanksgiving dinner!


We had MET this goose, and all too suddenly we understood a bit about the process that had brought him to our table. We kids just sat there; we didn't raise our faces; we didn't make a sound; we didn't raise our plates to share the meat when it was carved; we couldn't even summon up the courage to face the goose... or face our parents.


"Well," my father said at last, "we can eat around it." That didn't help a bit, and when my father saw that, he understood his children could not attempt to eat a thing in that bird's presence. And especially, they wouldn't be taking so much as a nibble out of that bird!


He rose and took the bird to the kitchen. Where it went from there, we children couldn't say; we never saw it again. But our parents were never of a mind---nor could they afford---to throw good food away, and in later years we came to realize we had probably enjoyed our goose in my mother's hearty post-Thanksgiving stew and soup and hash.


Our response to Mom's heroic work in cooking up that grand Thanksgiving dinner must have disappointed her, but in hindsight, it seemed to me she might have actually been prepared for our reaction. She left the dining room and came back with a meat loaf, piping hot and seemingly from nowhere. It was delicious, the best we'd ever had, and we told her so and meant it. When we addressed dessert, we saw that Mom had topped our pies with extra ice cream, a rare luxury for us.


After dinner we were bundled up and hustled out-of-doors with Mom and Dad, to build a snowman. Mom brought along the coal to make the face and buttons; Dad supplied the hat and corncob pipe, and together we came up with such a tall, impressive snowman that, in its splendid presence, the goose was all but forgotten.


It was a fine Thanksgiving after all, for all of us; except the goose!