Thanksgiving 1935

by Henry Swain

It was a bright, sunny, warm day as our family gathered at my uncle Ross’s house for our annual Thanksgiving feast. It was traditional that members of my mother’s family shared Thanksgiving each year at a different family member’s home.

With all my cousins, aunts, and uncles, the crowd of eager eaters would range from fifteen to twenty persons. Each of the wives was known for some special dish, which they prepared each year to be raved about by the hungry relatives.

My mother’s specialty was cottage cheese and scalloped oysters, prepared with rich cream from our Jersey cow. Aunt Vema’s contributions were pies, both pumpkin and mince. Aunt Florence could be counted on for baked sweet potatoes. Aunt Myrtle always brought salad and rolls. Desserts were not confined to pies. There were cakes and sometimes homemade ice cream.

This Thanksgiving Day was unusually warm and most of my younger cousins and I were outside playing, working up an appetite for the much anticipated meal.

Quite suddenly, a cloudbank came in from the northwest shutting down the sun and bringing with it a cold brisk wind. We scurried in for our jackets, and continued to play outside. We were glad to be called in for dinner for the temperature was rapidly sliding downward.

The noon meal lived up to expectations and after the table was cleared we set to work on a huge jigsaw puzzle. It had begun to snow lightly and outside play did not seem that tempting. Three of my uncles stretched out on patches of the parlor carpet for naps.

After their naps, two of them went out on the porch to check the weather and the outside thermometer. The fifty-degree morning temperature had dropped to below freezing by two o’clock.

Our Thanksgiving always extended past what we called supper. Leftovers had to be gleaned and seldom were any desserts taken home in their original containers. At four o’ clock dad told me drive the two miles to our country home to milk our cow. I did not really like milking the cow but I did like to be able to drive our car by myself, so I did not complain.

The snow had not amounted to much but it was cold. The cow was already in the barn, snorting spurts of steam from her nostrils. I made quick work of the milking, taking time to squirt milk at a mouse ten feet away. The thermometer on the back porch read nineteen degrees.

I returned to help the others reduce the oversupply of good food and to complete the jigsaw puzzle. About nine o’clock folks began to think about going home. This was a little earlier than usual, for some of the men had begun to wonder if their cars would start in the cold temperature.

Uncle Tom was first to bundle up, brave the cold, and try to start his Cadillac. He returned shortly saying it wouldn’t start One by one my uncles performed the same ritual with the same results. Someone checked the thermometer. it was two above zero.

Cars and batteries were not what they are now. For some reason I could never understand, my uncles would always make a second attempt at car starting, by pouring a teakettle of hot water on the carburetor. It was supposed to warm the gas in the carburetor and increase its chances of starting. I don’t remember it ever working.

The only car that would start was our four-cylinder Plymouth. Since I had used it to go milk the cow at four, the cold temperature had not affected it as much. I spent the rest of the evening taking home all my relatives whose cars would not start. It was around midnight when I put the Plymouth in the barn.

Dad already had a jug of hot water under the covers of my bed in my unheated bedroom. I pushed the jug to the bottom of the bed to warm my feet and soon was asleep.

When I came down for breakfast the next morning, the temperature was ten below zero. Dad had the kitchen stove topped with a pan of hot cereal and a steaming teakettle of water. After a warm breakfast I prepared myself to brave the cold and do my morning chore with our cow. As I was about to put on my coat and jacket, Dad said, “Son, I’ve already milked the cow.” I could have hugged him for that. Back then teenage sons didn’t hug their dads. I will always regret that I didn’t.