When I think of Thanksgiving, the wonderfully delicious and chaotic dinners of my youth in a family of eight — plus anyone else who showed up — all mesh together, but two more recent filter to the surface.
The first is the year we brought Thanksgiving to our son when he couldn’t come home from college for the holiday. The second came a few years later, when we spent Thanksgiving camping with our daughter, son-in-law and first grandson in our new-to-us, old-to-everyone-else 30-foot 1983 Ford motor home.
Jesse was a sophomore at the University of Montana (another story) and was studying theater (also another story). Summer stock in Glasgow, Montana, kept him in Montana for the summer and with Christmas around the corner, the long trip home for Thanksgiving was too much. But we missed him.
This was not going to be our first Thanksgiving with a minus one. That would come soon enough.
The solution: My husband, Bill, our daughter Molly, then a senior in college, and I flew to Montana for the holiday.
Jesse was living with a few friends in a house near campus and they had different ideas regarding necessities. Things such as a table and chairs, cooking and eating supplies were noticeably not on their need-to-have list. To have our meal, we bought a table, some chairs, cooking essentials and utensils and plenty of food for our Thanksgiving meal.
Our memories aren’t tied into the meal, but rather the process — the surprise of making it happen, the time creating and eating the meal as a family and the enjoyment Jess and his roommates had eating the leftovers we intentionally made sure were a-plenty.
The second Thanksgiving memory happened at a campsite near Merango Caves, in southern Indiana. Molly, Brian and little Will lived near New Albany, Indiana, just over the Ohio River from Louisville and about an hour from the caves.
The new-to-us motor home was finally ready for its maiden voyage, and it was time to introduce 18-month-old Will to the world of camping and caving.
That’s the background. This story really begins when I was ready to put the turkey in the oven and it didn’t work. It was the one thing Bill didn’t check before buying the house on wheels. Fortunately, there was a grill at our campsite. We just needed charcoal.
Bill and Brian were tasked with finding some while Molly and I worked out the cooking details while also keeping Will happy. Hint: Aluminum foil makes a good oven for a stuffed, well-seasoned and well-wrapped bird as long as the charcoal keeps glowing.
When the turkey was almost done cooking, the biscuits, also wrapped in foil, joined the bird on the grill. Hint No. 2: Flip them to avoid scorching the bottom of the rolls.
The remainder of the meal was made on the stove, and everything was delicious. At the end of the day, all challenges were successfully met, thanks to plenty of aluminum foil and creativity. The turkey was juicy and tender, the biscuits were warm and sweet and the fixins brought the meal together. Or was it family?
The atmosphere, the improvisation and family certainly made it memorable. And Will, now 10, has two younger brothers. They all love camping and Will is fascinated with caves.