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Thanksgiving Stories

During these months of the Covid-19 virus, holiday celebrations differ from those in times gone by. As my husband/tech advisor and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner at home this year, I thought about my grandmothers’ Thanksgiving stories. Their holidays were not as I would have expected.

 

Grace Riddle Reed (1896-1976)

My Dad’s mom descended from the Pilgrims. You would think Thanksgiving would be a big day for her. Yet she never spoke of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. Nor did my dad remember celebrating the holiday in his childhood home. Perhaps they never did.

Grandma Grace grew up on a poor homestead in the Nebraska Sandhills. She raised her own kids as a widow during the Great Depression. Money was hard to come by, perhaps not to be spent on a lavish dinner.

Even if she could scrape together the necessary funds, she may not have bothered to put together a Thanksgiving meal. Grandma never cooked, leaving the task instead to Dad’s older brother Owen. His signature dishes were rhubarb and oatmeal, probably all they had available. Once he left home, Dad never ate either of those things again.

Under these circumstances, I believe Dad never had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner until he married my mom. Odd for a man with his ancestry.

And what about Grandma? I asked her one Christmas what she had eaten for Thanksgiving dinner that year. She vaguely replied, “Oh, some canned chicken noodle soup.”

 

Martha Mattila Bentsen (1906-1977)

My mom’s mother was the child of Finnish immigrants. They made every effort to leave their Finnish culture behind and to become as Americanized as they could.

They wholeheartedly embraced the Thanksgiving tradition as soon as they learned about it. The family held large Thanksgiving family gatherings. They learned to roast a turkey with all the trimmings.

Of course, these meals had a Finnish twist. There were several types of pickles—cucumbers and beets. There was a rutabaga casserole. There was Finnish bread.

After her parents died, Grandma Martha continued to host Thanksgiving dinners for family members. We joined her several times during my childhood. I always enjoyed these Finn-style Thanksgiving dinners, never knowing there was anything unusual about them.

 

As I look back, I realize that I developed my idea of a proper Thanksgiving celebration and meal from my experience with the holiday as celebrated by Finnish immigrants. My American ancestors contributed nothing to my understanding of the holiday because they did not participate in it.

You would think it would be the other way around. But in my family, the 11th-generation Americans did not celebrate Thanksgiving while the recent immigrants did.

 

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