I miss the Thanksgiving celebrations on Whirlwind Hill. But since I married and moved to the west coast, I’ve come to love the new traditions that have evolved. For the last twenty years my husband and I and our children have spent Thanksgiving with his family, first in California and now in Oregon. This year we’ll again be in Portland, where the celebrations are chaotic and joyful, but still all about bringing together the generations.
I often think of those special days on the farm and how much the tradition stayed the same year after year.
Tuesday, November 24, 2014 – “Nice day. Men busy about home. Very busy indoors getting ready for the coming Thanksgiving once more. Hope all may have a good time, for the time is short for us all to be here together.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Thanksgiving on Whirlwind Hill was the holiday when all the family came “home” to the homestead to share the big noon feast, the afternoon walks and games of touch foot ball and hide the button, and the evening’s light supper highlighted by Aunt Betty’s chocolate éclairs.
For several days before the event my mother and aunts and cousins and I helped my grandmother clean the farmhouse. We took the china out of the cupboards and washed it, polished the silver, ironed the tablecloths, shined the glassware, and made elaborate centerpieces of fruit and leaves and ferns. On the Wednesday evening before the big day, I did my own two jobs. I cut the red and green grapes in half and took out their seeds to ready them for the meal’s first course – fruit cup – and I made the place cards. In this photo of the 1962 Thanksgiving, you can see my little Pilgrim Hat place cards – probably made that year with the help of cousin Nancy, seated on the right.
In 1951, the Wallingford Post interviewed my Aunt Ellen for an article titled “Mrs. Henry A. Norton Recalls The Thanksgiving Feast 50 Years Ago.” (And thank you to my cousin Ellen Norton Peters for sharing this article with me.) It seems astonishing how very much work went into this often quickly-eaten meal. My grandfather barely finished carving the turkey and passing the plates when someone wanted seconds. The important part of the meal was the community, because as Lydia said – “The time is short for us all to be here together.”
Here is what my Aunt Ellen said in 1951.
“Father [my great-grandfather William E. Hall] made a great deal of Thanksgiving. It was more of an event than Christmas. All the family came home to the Homestead for the family gathering. It was a happy time for young and old alike. I can remember Mama and I starting about a week ahead of time – polishing silver, waxing the furniture and getting ready for the big day. In those days everything we put on the table was right off the farm. We had mince-meat to make and nuts to gather from the hickory and butternut trees. The day before we started cooking in earnest. All the desserts had to be made, raised donuts, pumpkin pies, mince pies, raised loaf cake and Indian pudding. We made them in quantity for the twenty or more folks coming. There were hot breads to be baked and the turkey to stuff. The old wood stove was working overtime.
Of course we made all our own bread and for dinner we baked raised biscuits and rye bread besides the regular white bread. Mother and I used to do it all. Now, some fifty years later, family still get together, but we all do some of it.
The big day started bright and early. The turkey was popped into the oven, so as to be done to perfection for the noon feast. The men all went hunting that morning. They started off bright and early for rabbits and squirrels and came home with tremendous appetites, ready for their Thanksgiving dinners. The children were sent out to play or had a glorious time playing hide-and-seek around the big house.
The ladies retired to the kitchen to get the meal ready. The big table was pulled out to its full length and set. We caught up on all the gossip and family chatter as we peeled potatoes and turnips and dished up the pickles and jelly. My mother always made a chicken pie, too. One of my brothers liked to have a piece of chicken pie after he’d had the turkey. We all had a small piece, too, or Mother felt quite hurt. How we ate it all I’ll never know. We even made one freezer of ice cream, and tapioca for the little children.
By the time the turkey was ready, the table was loaded with goodies. It is funny, but I don’t remember having cranberry sauce then. That must have been added in later years
There were pickles that we’d put up, little cucumber pickles, mustard pickles, and the other kinds, apple jelly, grape jelly, preserves and celery that we raised in the garden, all the bread and biscuits and butter that we’d churned and those things that made up Thanksgiving dinner.
As the men and children were sitting down, in came great steaming dishes of onions, potatoes, turnips, and finally, with great ceremony the big bird was brought in and put down in front of Father. After grace was said, the turkey was carved and everybody was served.
After the dinner was cleared and the dishes done (believe me there were lots of them, but all of us together made them disappear in a hurry), all the family gathered around the piano and had a grand time singing all the old favorites. How Father loved to sing! It was such a happy homey day. The family still gathers as we have done generation after generation. There will be about twenty this year. In the world today, and the rush of modern times, it is hard to have that happy, relaxed day, as we used to 50 years ago. Still we shouldn’t lose sight of what Thursday, Thanksgiving Day stands for.” ~ Mrs. Henry A. Norton, 1951 – (Ellen Hall Norton)
A Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
People in photo: Front row from left – Melissa Hall, Gertrude Hall, Samuel Hall, William Cannon: Second row – Alice Hall, Ellen Hall Norton: Third row, seated: Lydia Reed Hart, Hattie Hall Cannon: Fourth Row – William Hall, holding hand of his mother Edith Hall, Carrie Hall: Back row from left – Wilbur Hall, John Cannon, Cynthia Hart, John Hart, Lydia Jane Hall, Edgar Hall, William E. Hall, Ellsworth Hall
On Monday: December Window