Over the River and Through the Woods – MCW Thanksgiving Memories

Today we’re sharing Thanksgiving stories, photos, possibly even some recipes. Hope you enjoy, and have a happy holiday.


Kate’s all-time favorite family Thanksgiving picture, our group walk after dinner. Don’t we look rustic?

John Clark: I must have taken this one because I’m invisible. Thanksgiving has many memories, some bad, most good. When I was young, it was a toss-up whether hunting or eating took priority. Eating generally won. Then as time went on, there were long cutthroat card games while we digested food in order to make room for more pie. I remember winning one pie eating contest in the 1990s that backfired because I couldn’t look at dessert for days. Thanksgiving now involves our daughters, their husbands and best of all three grandchildren, Piper, Reid and Gemma. I’m particularly thankful this year because Lisa, Sam and Gemma now live an hour away as opposed to Port Chester, NY, so everyone will be at their house this Thanksgiving.

Another Thanksgiving at Sennebec Hill Farm

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Thanksgiving always seems to revolve around food and family, back when I was the kid in the photo in 1950, and in 2003, when the family gathering first included our great niece, now a very grown up young lady of eighteen.

I’m looking forward to catching up on news and to stuffing myself on turkey, stuffing, rolls, apple pie, and that frequent addition to Maine holiday tables, the whoopie pie.

Maggie Robinson: 1979 was a most memorable Thanksgiving for the Robinson family. My husband was the new headmaster at Lee Academy, so we’d moved into Dewdrop Cottage, a house on campus.

The move from Virginia had been somewhat stressful that August, as I was six months pregnant with Baby #3, and had a 5-year-old and an almost 3-year-old. (Baby #4 would not come along until 1983, just in time for Easter.) But everything was finally in place for our first Thanksgiving in our new house. We had a smallish turkey, as only the only guest was my mother-in-law, who drove up from Brewer that morning and planned to drive back the next day. Oops.

All during dinner I felt uncomfortable, so we decided to go to my doctor on Friday to see what was cooking with the baby who was already over a week late. He put me in the hospital, but Jessie did not arrive until Saturday afternoon. My poor mother-in-law was stuck at in Lee with two little kids and no clothes for almost a week. When I came home with the baby, she shot out of the house like her pants were on fire. She’d had quite enough, LOL.

We always tease Jessie that she weighed more than our turkey that year. At 9 pounds 11 ounces, she was plump and juicy and looked just like a baby doll you’d buy in the store–blonde, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked. She’ll be with us this year to celebrate her birthday with a gluten-free cake as well as pumpkin pie. 🙂

The Robinson girls

Kate Flora: I’ve always found it a bit strange that our traditions evolved so that Ken and I and the boys would spend Thanksgiving in Maine with my family and Christmas in Massachusetts with Ken’s family, who are Jewish. But that’s how it ended up, and so we would head north either the night before or the morning of, to the farm. Sometimes that Thanksgiving morning would be clear and brown, sometimes icy, sometimes snowing. There would steaming pots on the stove and the delicious smell of roasting turkey filling the house. There were traditions that couldn’t be changed–there had to be a tall glass compote filled with fresh fruit. There had to be trays of dates and figs. There had to be a hammered aluminum bowl of mixed nuts and a stack of lobster crackers doubling as nut crackers. While the grandchildren waited for dinner, they could crack nuts until the entire area around that bowl was a sea of bits of shell and crushed nuts.

When we were kids ourselves, our house was always the venue that relatives came to. The women would cook and the men would go out hunting, coming back somehow miraculously just as the turkey came out of the oven. I know I’ve told this story before, but I love the year that my feminist mother, sick of the women doing all the work while the men sat and waited to be fed, put slips of paper in a bowl with everyone’s name, and pairs were drawn out to take turns washing and drying the dishes. There was no dishwasher. My father was outraged at the sight of his elderly uncles washing dishes.

Cranberry sauce upper right beside the gravy boat.

Susan Vaughan: No matter whether my husband and I join other family members for the holiday, when we get home, we always have our own turkey with all the traditional accompaniments. One special dish is the cranberry sauce made from his mother’s recipe. I grew up being served the canned, jellied cranberry sauce, but always passed it on to the next relative. Some people prefer it, but my husband’s mom introduced me to her whole-berry sauce and the recipe. The amounts are easily reduced or expanded. Here you go: Mrs. Vaughan’s Cranberry Sauce. 1 12-ounce package of whole cranberries, 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Put all together in a saucepan on the stove. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 minutes. Let cool a bit. Then pour into a bowl or a mold and chill. It’s the best!

Maureen Milliken: Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because, let’s face it: food, food and more food. I like the basics. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce. The leftovers are as good as the originals. I could eat it for weeks. For many years, working for newspapers, I’d work on Thanksgiving, but frequently would try to find a local restaurant serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal, or make my own. I don’t care who cooks it, as long as it is there.

I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving Day football on TV, mostly because no one in my family has a large enough house to separate the loud football-watching from the conversation with family. My point is, why are we all getting together if we’re going to watch football rather than socialize? And I prefer buffet-style service to sitting around a table. Please don’t get in between me and the food.

five women sitting around a table with thanksgiving food on it, a TV with football playing can be seen int he background

A recent Thanksgiving at my sister Nicki’s in New Hampshire with, from left, my mom, my niece Adele, Nicki, my sister Becky and my sister-in-law Nina. Where are the menfolk? The screen with the football game in the background may give you a hint.

I did host one Thanksgiving for the entire family, in 1999. I’d bought my first house, in Manchester, New Hampshire, a few years before and was anxious to actually use the dining room. I remember it as being a resounding success, and also the only Thanksgiving, I believe, that we have a full family photo from.

Thanksgiving 1999, the only time I hosted the entire family. Some of those babies have babies of their own now.

Over the years, Thanksgiving dinners that included my five siblings and their families have pretty much fallen by the wayside — people are far-flung and the crowd is too big. For several years, my parents alternated between having it at their house in Portland and going to my youngest sister’s in New Hampshire, but in more recent years, they’ve preferred to stay home in Portland , and we usual gather with my two siblings who live there, one of whom lives with them  and one who lives a few blocks away, any other related hangers-on.

I start focusing in late October on making sure someone at my parents’ house will be providing Thanksgiving dinner. This year I was given a free turkey from one of my freelance gigs, which made things easier. I also always bring the cranberry sauce. There was a time in my life when I atually thought it always was a round oblong, with the imprint from a can on it. When I discovered that it could be a delicious lumpy so tart and so sweet homemade treat (or bought from a local maker), I was so totally on board. There is nothing — nothing! — as scrumptious as a forkful of turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy all in the same mouthful. Side note: In our teenage and early adult years, my siblings and I called cranberry sauce “I buried Paul.” Beatle fans will remember that on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon, with a little imagination, can be heard saying “I buried Paul.” Lennon said what he was actually saying was “cranberry sauce.” And why wouldn’t he be?

Another family tradition is someone calling out, “How can these rolls be burned on the outside and still frozen on the inside?” Another treasured ha ha holiday memory from the past. But a story for another day.

Here’s how I make cranberry sauce (I can’t claim it as an original recipe, I’m sure many folks make it the same way). This makes a good enough batch for a small Thanksgiving dinner with cranberry-sauce lovers, but can easily be expanded to make more. It takes about half an hour to make and is best made the day before, if not even more in advance, so it’s nice and chilled and jelly-like:

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup of orange juice

4 cups cranberries (either frozen or fresh, if fresh be sure all stems are removed and cranberries are rinsed)

Boil water, orange juice and sugar in a medium or large saucepan until all the sugar is dissolved.

Add cranberries. Once it starts boiling again, lower heat to simmer and let it cook about 10 minutes until most of the cranberries have burst, then turn off the heat.

Let cranberry sauce cool and thicken in the pot until it’s room temperature, then put it in a bowl or container and put it in the refrigerator.

If you like it with add-ins — nuts, cinnamon, orange rind, etc. — but them in after you’ve removed it from the burner but while it’s still hot and before it starts to thicken.

Brenda Buchanan:  Great cranberry sauce recipe, Mo!

I can’t claim my story as a memory but it’s true, and it’s not exactly a Thanksgiving memory but close.

I was born on the first of December, which in the year of my birth was during hunting season in Massachusetts.  My father was not a dedicated hunter, but he enjoyed a quiet walk in the woods. That year some friends invited him to go hunting on the first of December, so on the night of November 30 he prepared to head out early the next morning for the first time all fall.

During the evening he set his hunting license on the kitchen table and set about gathering the rest of his gear. He awoke at 5 a.m., dressed in darkness and crept downstairs. He shrugged on his coat and reached for his hunting license, but his fingers didn’t find it. When he switched on the light, it was nowhere to be found.

As the story was told every year, Pa called his friends after turning the kitchen upside down to report he couldn’t join them after all, because he couldn’t find his darned hunting license.  He returned to bed, only to be awoken a couple of hours later when my mother went into labor.  Had he been off hunting she would have had to call an ambulance to get to the hospital, but thanks to the missing license, he was right there with her for the birth of the second Buchanan daughter.

Later somebody found the missing license in a most illogical place. Apparently, my sister SuEllen, 15 months old at the time, was going through a stage where she found it hilarious to toss things into the trash.  There it was, among the family detritus, and everyone agreed she’d saved the day.

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2 Responses to Over the River and Through the Woods – MCW Thanksgiving Memories

  1. jselbo says:

    Great memories – and so vivid – wow. !

    I realize my Thanksgiving memories from childhood – are non-existent! I have a biggish family, but no memories or sitting around a table with a turkey and cranberries. Because we moved around so much? Is that why no particular place comes to mind? Thanksgiving comes to life for me when I was a hungry playwright in NYC, couldn’t afford to get back to North Dakota to be with family – and my friends and I started the Thanksgiving All-Day Cook and Watch Football, make a short movie and play charades tradition. Luckily two friends got married and moved to a house 20 minutes out of the city in New Jersey – so that became the spot.
    That tradition has now been going on for 27 years – and we are about to “have that special day” again. Prep is on-going right now. Wines are picked up from a the same dusty wine store on the Lower East Side, the best apple pie picked up from a tiny bakery on 86th and Lex, chocolates from a great shop at Rockefeller Center, bread from Grand Central Marketplace. The actual Thanksgiving day begins by putting homemade pumpkin pies into the oven while the Balloon Parade and much-too-perky Disney Channel stars move around, sing and dance on TV. We make soups and stuffing and some special cocktail concoction that is served when the turkey gets slid into the oven and most of us call relatives to wish them a happy day. The number of people at this event hangs around 15-16. While the cranberries simmer and the turkey cooks, one of us writes the short movie of the year and we find costumes and we memorize our parts and block it and shoot the silly thing (the edited version is sent out for Christmas) and since one of the crew is a professional musician, he, sometimes, does a live sound track.

    Then we watch the Detroit Lions lose. And eat. And play charades till midnight. Takes a good week to recover but would plan the year around this day.

  2. susanvaughan says:

    Such fun reading all the family adventures and traditions–and recipes. Interesting that two of us added cranberry sauce recipes. And I’m wishing Brenda an early Happy Birthday! (We share that birthdate, Brenda.)

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