Thanksgiving with the aunts

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(Host) For many years, commentator Edith Hunter’s family celebrated Thanksgiving with aunts Mary and Margaret Peirce of Weathersfield Center, in the same house where she now lives. Edith takes us to Thanksgiving Dinner with the Aunts, as recalled in a memoir by her daughter, Elizabeth.

(Hunter) Aunt Mary and Aunt Margaret divided the household work between them as effectively as any man and wife. Thanksgiving duties were similarly divided. Aunt Margaret bustled around the kitchen, while Aunt Mary was in charge of setting the stage for the big event which would take place in the dining room dominated by a heavy, claw-footed table.

Our family arrived at the Aunts the night before. Early Thanksgiving morning Aunt Mary would marshall her forces. Our first mission was to get the two halves of the huge dining room table to separate so that we could insert three extra leaves. How we struggled with that mahogany monster! My father on one end, Aunt Mary on the other, while my brother and I were strategically placed in the middle. When at last the table did yield to Aunt Mary’s commands and my father’s more reasonable mechanical tinkerings, Graham and I were entrusted with bringing the almost two foot wide leaves from their storage rack in the pantry.

The men were then allowed to escape to the library, but I was left to follow Aunt Mary’s directions on the all-important step of setting the table. No task was undertaken with more precision. A huge white linen tablecloth was spread with utmost attention being paid that it should hang evenly on all sides. Then came the silverware, placed precisely two inches from the edge of the table. The water glasses were set an inch from the tip of each knife. Each place was given its own butter plate with pearl-handled butter knife placed artistically across the edge. Hotpads, individual gold-rimmed glass nut dishes, and little silver salt bowls with tiny silver spoons, were set in place. On a stand near Aunt Mary’s chair was a tray with china demitasse cups and spoons for after-dinner coffee. The centerpiece, a heaping bowl of fruit was always Aunt Mary’s exclusive province.

The menu for Thanksgiving never varied: turkey, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, peas, creamed onions, dressing, two kinds of cranberry sauce, two kinds of olives, celery, and rolls. Dessert always consisted of apple, pumpkin and mince pies. After everyone was seated we observed a moment of silence, heads bowed. I was preoccupied with the dilemma of when to look up.

After dinner, we adjourned to the music room where Aunt Margaret played the piano, and we sang familiar Thanksgiving hymns such as “We Gather Together,” and “Come Ye Thankful People, Come.” The piano has now been replace by my computer. Those sitting around the table are fewer. But, as always, a cloud of witnesses will hover around the table on Thanksgiving day.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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