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At Mother’s Table

By Linda Ulleseit
November 17, 2020

From the time I was a small girl, the smell of turkey roasting in the oven brought with it a strong sense of tradition, which is very important to me. My grandmother was a photographer, so we have many albums of family photos that bring back memories. Through the years, the story emerges.

Thanksgiving about 1965 (That’s me, the younger girl)

In the 1960’s, we used to go up into the Santa Cruz mountains to my aunt’s house in the woods. We’d explore behind her house, kicking piles of fallen leaves and climbing logs with our cousin. Later we’d make blanket forts in a house full of love and roasting turkey. The family all gathered at the table for the meal. My grandmother, the photographer, is never in any of the pictures. 

In the 1970’s, the pictures are of my mother’s table at our home in Saratoga, California, set with her sterling silver, the fancy china her brother brought back from occupied Japan in World War II, and my grandmother’s lace tablecloth. I remember playing Monopoly in front of the fireplace all day while the turkey cooked, and my grandmother teaching me how to make gravy.

By the 1980’s, my mother became the photographer and disappeared from the pictures. At that time, Thanksgiving meant going to college football games and visiting families of boyfriends, then spouses. My husband’s family came together during the day on Thanksgiving for an enormous gathering of family that I’d never experienced. His aunt’s house smelled of turkey, and the sides were brought by two dozen or so family members. For Thanksgiving dinner, though, we always gathered at my parents’ house for the traditional meal with the traditional table setting.

Thanksgiving 1987

It was the 1990’s before my mother’s dishes, silverware, and tablecloth made their way to my house. Babies appeared around the holiday table as the family grew. I used the same hand grinder my grandmother used to prepare vegetables for her stuffing recipe, and the house filled with the familiar smell of turkey and the familiar love of family. 

In the most recent decades, my children and nephews have become adults. Now they have obligations to families of their spouses and friends. Sometimes we didn’t have our traditional dinner on Thanksgiving Day, but later in the weekend so that our immediate family, at least, can all be together. Two years ago, my nephew and his fiancee hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. It was odd to see someone else’s tablecloth and someone else’s dishes. While the meal had the traditional roasted turkey, the accompaniments varied. It was different, but all very good. The holiday definitely had the feeling of passing the responsibility of upholding tradition to the younger generation. 

This year the holiday will be the strangest yet. My husband and my older son will sit down at a table without extended family. My heart aches for family members that can’t be with us. If one theme emerges as I look through photographs of past holidays, it’s that situations change and the family adapts. I know the important elements will still be there-family and the smell of roasted turkey.

Linda Ulleseit
Written by Linda Ulleseit

Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).

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