I came upon this wonderful painting by a painter named Doris Lee, done in 1935. It is identical to my great~grandmother’s kitchen in Small Town Northern California. As a very young child, this is the same memory that lives in my mind to this day.
It was a trip we made only on Thanksgiving. Perhaps my father detested the ritual or, more likely, his uncles in attendance. No matter, it was an exciting day for a little girl of 6 like myself.
Entering her old Victorian house on Main Street, the wonderful smell of baked pies, the fat turkey roasting along with everything else she had been cooking for days, came steaming out the front door on an olfactory wave. I would run through the creaking screen door, through the front parlor toward the back of the house and her kitchen.
I have little memory of her house except the floorboards that creaked, but her kitchen was the heart of the place and where I wanted to be. Amazingly it looked exactly like this Doris Lee painting, complete with the pie~rolling table, the strange green wallpapered walls AND ceiling, the single light fixture, the checkered floor and the big black wood stove.
The few large women donned in their full aprons in cotton calicoes and lace trim, with straps that crossed in back. There were never any babies in wicker high chairs nor women who were thin!
One year, perhaps the last meal I enjoyed there, we arrived a day early, staying with my grandmother who lived down the road. (Practically my entire extended family lived in this small town.) I walked over to visit my great~grandmother, catching her “in the act”.
Can you guess what it was she was doing?
She was chasing turkeys and chickens she kept out in her chicken yard. I noticed her axe had been sharpened and laid next to the chopping block, a large old tree stump.
She lived alone.
The story went my drunken great-grandfather wandered off years ago never to be heard from again. As they had lived in Gualala, a small logging village high above the sea, it was rumored he fell off a cliff.
Apparently nobody went searching…
She did everything herself.
She cussed about “damned Yankees” and loved to smoke her “Southern” mother’s small pipe laced with cherry tobacco, rocking in her chair on her front porch, watching the world go by. In looking back, I think she did exactly as she pleased!
Including this fascinatingly sinister deed.
Children tend to be drawn to this kind of thing if given half a chance. She turned to me, her face red and sweating. She tended to be very Scotch and of a no-nonsense demeanor. She simply announced this was to be our dinner tomorrow, in lieu of explanations.
She may have had a flair for the dramatic as well. She asked me to corner “that damned turkey.”
What I remember is blood, her many cats and the strangeness of the headless fowl stumbling in circles. I don’t recall feeling much of anything else since the mean turkey didn’t seem to suffer at her hands.
Afterward the turkey was set to steam in a huge pot on the “canning” stove she kept on her back porch. Boiling made it easier to pluck the feathers clean.
It was time for us to undertake a sweeter chore and we headed to her berry patch, picking bowls of sweet berries for the Thanksgiving pies. Simple as that.
Shall I tell you about her mincemeat?
~reposted almost every Thanksgiving holiday since about 2009~