Happy New Year, Everyone! Before 2006 gets too far behind us, and, after being inspired by another extremely enjoyable Thanksgiving family event, I thought I would take advantage of Ken's terrific web site and attempt to recall whatever I can of Thanksgivings past and share these memories with you. The details of these scenes and anecdotes may have lost some of their accuracy over the years, but that isn't intentional. Just chalk it up to "chemo brain". However, you can rest assured that I'll write with truthiness being my guiding light.
Love to all.
My parents, Joe and Lena Ouse, started their Thanksgiving Dinner tradition in the early 1930's, the hard times of the Great Depression. The meeting place of this wonderful get together was in an old rented house which was situated on 8 acres along the east side of Gustine's West Avenue, the first farm house past the city limits sign. Address: Route l, Box l. The house was void of what was considered basics. It was unpainted and uninsulated. It lacked wiring for electricity, making the use of kerosene lamps a necessity. It lacked the plumbing and power to provide hot water. Though a bathroom was included, the toilet was unusable because of a huge septic tank problem. Bathroom needs were taken care of by using chamber pots or the remote outhouse, which was located "down there" in the area of the garage, chicken pen and milk house. The walls of the house were so thin that one morning a woodpecker had succeeded in poking a hole through to Rod's bedroom. Dad successfully patched it by finding a tin can which fit the hole perfectly. Despite all this, I remember the house as a cozy haven for visiting and sharing meals with friends and relatives. Inside the house were two structures that were very valuable in helping to provide for a comfortable and satisfying living space. One was the round dining table which could be extended by adding two or three leaves when needed. Besides bearing the various food dishes for Thanksgiving and other feasts, it also was used for card games, doing schoolwork and even table tennis. The latter activity frustrated some visiting players when they would try their favorite corner shots. The second item was the wood stove which was situated in the same, small living-dining room and next to the table. The wood stove was our sole source of heat, though I do recall a portable kerosene heater that was tried out in our bedroom once or twice. The stove also made it possible to heat up water for baths and for washing clothes and dishes. Finally, the stove made it possible for Mom to come up with those terrific meals she would prepare, using the oven for baking and for cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. Despite working to build up his dairy and holding a job at the Carnation plant, Dad was able to upgrade the conditions of the house by using the time he had on his days off. We didn't have a sofa or soft chairs, so he fashioned some sitting space by building a wood box with a lid, making it suitable for sitting. He also constructed a wooden "easy chair" which was the only lounge chair in the place. Naturally, it was very popular. In order to avoid a "chair wars" situation, it was agreed among us brothers that, if an occupant were to vacate the chair with the intention to return, he had to announce - "Safety Chair!" Otherwise, the space was forfeited to whomever had next dibs. The big step in home improvement, however, was when Dad wired the house with electricity! We were on the verge of becoming modern! Eventually, a radio was plugged in, a standing lamp (Dad's creation) was placed near the easy chair, the ice box was discarded for a refrigerator, and Mom didn't have to scrub clothes on the washboard any more because a Maytag washing machine made its appearance. When I asked Mom how we were able to acquire such a modern piece of technology, she pointed to a calendar hanging on the enclosed porch wall and said, " See that picture? That's President Roosevelt. He's the reason we were able to get the washer." Because Uncle Frank had delivered the appliance from his garage and appliance business in Newman, and because I hadn't seen my uncle too often, I thought HE was President Roosevelt until Mom informed me that our family's only relationship with the President was the Democrat Party. By the way, the landlord was so pleased with Dad's electrical installation that he raised the rent an additional five dollars a month. I'm not sure of the exact year when Mom and Dad started inviting guests for Thanksgiving Dinner, but it might have been around 1934 - 1935, maybe earlier. Guests consisted of Mom's brothers and sisters and their spouses and Grandma. Colleen was the only cousin at first. One year we had some surprise guests. They showed up about an hour before dinner. The guests were my mother's cousin, Manuel Oliviera his wife Martha, and their children Bobby, David and Yvonne, ages ranging from fourteen through seventeen. I believe it was the first time my brothers and I had met them. They also brought an adult friend with them. He didn't say much, nor was he introduced. He just ate. He remained a mystery person for years. But the mystery was solved just recently when cousin Colleen informed me he was the boyfriend of Martha! Whoa! No wonder he wasn't introduced. But did they think he wasn't visible? The whole family ate well and one could tell they were well experienced at this activity. David reminded me of a rotund character in a cartoon strip called "Smilin' Jack". The comic cartoon character would often be seen with a shirt button popping out and sent flying because of his his protruding belly. After witnessing David's skill at consuming volumes of food, I kept my eye on the buttons of his white shirt which were straining to contain the contents of his stomach's Thanksgiving dinner. The buttons, however, remained intact, probably because of being veterans of past dining experiences. We had very few leftovers after that particular Thanksgiving.
Since food consumption is the highlight of the holiday, I suppose going to the source of the main dish would be the proper thing to do. Dad would select one of the turkeys raised on our farm and deftly dispatch its neck with a sharp hatchet. We took this in stride. Doesn't everyone have to do this when preparing for Thanksgiving dinner? The plucking of feathers was next, a time consuming task. The night before, we would help out by shredding bread for the dressing. That took a while, too, but we knew that the tedious job would be worth every minute come meal time. For me, Mom's dressing was the top dish, followed by the mashed potatoes with gravy. In addition to turkey meat, Mom would also include a ham dish. The menu would also include deviled eggs, macaroni salad and a to-die-for potato salad with shrimp. Among the supplementary dishes were home grown and prepared green olives, and pickles, both sweet and dill. Either artichokes or asparagus would be offered along with Mom's special mayonnaise. I should also include, my personal un-favorites, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Mainliners of the desserts were pumpkin, apple and mincemeat pie. I'm not sure why, but mincemeat was one of Rod's favorites. As time went on, the menus has been bolstered by such memorable dishes as fruit salad, quiche, roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes, green salad, home baked buns, lemon meringue pie, pumpkin cheese cake as well as the old favorites. I've thought about contributing my own appetizer concoctions of either cold toast special or black walnut crunch, but I seem to have misplaced the recipes. Besides, a brick or suitable rock is needed to prepare the black walnut delicacy.
One Thanksgiving celebration Dad had brewed his own brand of beer. I was fascinated by the beads that continually rose to the top, the white head of foam floating and the pungent aroma of the drink. Since then, I've always preferred my ale in a glass or mug in order to appreciate the fragrance of the contents. We were allowed one small sip, not enough to be able to write a critique of Dad's brewing efforts. Some years later, we were able to critique Rod's homemade red wine. It had to be good. It had the Ouse label!
Basketball or football as after dinner activities started after our family moved in the spring of 1943 to our Grandma's place on Hunt Road. The following fall, after dinner, we went to the high school football field to watch Gustine play Los Banos in what may have been the last traditional "Thanksgiving Day Game" at the school (Watching football during Thanksgiving in those days had to be a "live" activity because television was then merely science fiction technology that one would read in comic books. Unbelievable!). Toward the end of the game, Gustine led by a few points and had kicked off. The gun sounded, indicating the game's end, but the ball was still in play, the "Banos runner racing down the side line with no one in front of him and the end zone insight. Across the field lumbered Gustine's Pat Ribiero who stretched out his 6 foot 4 inch frame and threw himself in front of the runner, saving the day. At home, the old leather football my brothers and I would use was often bloated and misshapen. It was o.k. for kicking, but I had trouble getting a grip to pass a ball which was more suitable for soccer. There was a time when no football was available, so we fashioned one out of a small potato sack by folding the sack, rolling it up and securing it with tough string. This ball made it easy to throw spirals and didn't sting our hand when making a catch. And we didn't have to worry about it losing air. Years later, I remember one particular Thanksgiving game played by the south side of the barn. My team was behind with one play left, the only chance to win the game. I received the ball from center, faked a pitchout to the right (to Greg was it?) and looked to the left sideline where I spotted Eleanor running with arms aloft. In precious fractions of a second I calculated and came up with the thought that she had played first base in high school! I tossed the ball in her direction. It came to rest on her outstretched hands as she ran into the end zone. She made a great catch. And that's where end zone celebrations of today all started. In succeeding years, the after dinner game seemed to lose its popularity. Some older bodies were failing to respond to the quickness and strength of the nephews and nieces. Also, trying to run an a full stomach grew to be more and more to be more challenging. Memorable images that flicker by my mind when thinking about Thanksgiving activities are: A basketball game at Rosemary and
Jordon's that was especially competitive with Ken O. and Eric, hands near the rim, battling for rebounds; John Hicks' first (1987?) and Ken Stites' possibly second participation in a football game which was played on the space Duane had prepared between Hunt Road and the east side of the house. Ken was tenacious with his line play while John caught at least one long touchdown pass (Tossed by Ken Ouse? Take the credit, anyway, Ken.) near the old quince tree (Do any of you remember my mother's wonderful quince jam?). In that game there was a lot of energetic action provided by Andrea, Rob, Marc, Kens, Greg, Janet and John. Jordon and Rod spent most of their time with stellar line play. Isn't that something? When a guy is the youngest on a team such as these, he is usually given the assignment, " You! Block!". Then, when retirement from the game is near and speed and leaping abilities have waned, he once again is regulated to a blocking assignment. Let the old guy go out a few feet and toss him the ball! What the heck, even T.O. drops a few (lot?) now and then! Another image: Daniel, Stephen, Jonathan and Connor having a great time clobbering each other with dirt clods at Jordon and Rosemary's place. Still another flashback: Duane leading a tour of his barn museum, the Miwok kochcha he built and then demonstrating various tractor maneuvers. No doubt other scenes of past Thanksgiving acivities will make their appearance to me, but they're too late for this writing.
Thanksgiving is a holiday we all look forward to and enjoy so much because we find ourselves surrounded by such good and friendly people. The younger generations have such energy and imagination which makes me confident that our family dinner tradition will
prevail. If any of you would like to share any of your Thanksgiving remembrances, I'm sure the rest of us would enjoy reading about them.