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Featured column: Woodworking: My unforgettable Thanksgiving Day: Wieners, glorified rice, making do

Thanksgivings come and Thanksgivings go but a few stick to my subconscious like turkey skin to the  bottom of our old bluestone roaster.

There was the Thanksgiving when Ma got the salt and sugar mixed up and we had lutefisk for dessert.

The Thanksgiving when after dinner Aunt Doree and I consulted the Ouija board to find out when Uncle Leonard would come home from World War II.

And a few days before Thanksgiving, when I slid my 24 cents per pound A & P turkey onto the checkout counter, only to hear from the clerk that John F. Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas.

But the one which most stubbornly refuses to yield to my mental spatula is Thanksgiving Day 1942.

America was finishing its first year of the war. Up in Rat Coulee, Ma, Pa, and I were preoccupied with gas and tires for the 1932 Pontiac, and uncles Gene and Leonard, recently inducted into our armed forces.

My teacher, Miss Adella Hanson busied herself teaching all of us the “true meaning” of Thanksgiving.

Thoughts of Squanto, two turkeys in every pot, two codfish in every cornhill, shotguns that looked like trumpets and giving thanks at something called a “groaning board,” for having survived that first miserable year at Plymouth swam through my head.

I slammed the kitchen door behind me to discover four flatirons on the wood cookstove with Ma sliding the fifth over Pa's white dress shirt. I discovered Ma, but the Rural Electrification Administration had not yet discovered Rat Coulee and thus we couldn't be hooked up to the high line.

“Three days from now we'll be in Whitehall at Grandma's, Davey, and we'll probably be finishing up the mincemeat pie about now.”

 ”Will we have turkey, like the Pilgrims?”

 “No, but we'll have roast chicken, just as good.”

 “The Pilgrims had turkey.”

“Change clothes and fill the woodbox.”

The next days dragged their slow length along at Larkin Valley School.

In art class, Barbara Plunkett and I constructed table favors for our first “meaningful” Thanksgiving -- brown and orange construction paper cut and cleverly folded into turkeys, orange pumpkin-shaped place cards with “Grandpa,” “Aunt Helen,” “Pa,” and the rest of us scrawled on them.

Those were my personal contributions to the yearly ritual at Grandma's house in town, the big house, the house with electricity. And a flush toilet.

On Wednesday Ma cleaned out the icebox, and we ate leftovers for supper, after which Pa and I adjourned to the living room and listened to Mr. Keane, Tracer of Lost Persons, on our battery-operated Coronado radio.

Ma stayed in the kitchen to make “glorified rice” -- a conglomeration of rice, whipped cream and pineapple chunks. It was gourmet fare, our contribution to Grandma's feast.

“Pineapple CRAP,” muttered Pa, who never was one for euphemism.

And then it began to snow. It snowed and snowed and snowed.

After chores the next morning, Pa inspected the Pontiac and the driveway that last night had been the road to town, shook his head came back into the house, and looked at us helplessly. Ma wrung her hands, then scurried to the icebox, which yielded up a  gigantic orange bowl of glorified rice, a half dozen shriveled wieners, and not much else.

Thus Thanksgiving 1942 found us feasting on wieners, glorified rice (“I still say it's pineapple CRAP,” muttered Pa) and home canned peach sauce -- all served on a groaning board in the kitchen, a groaning board draped with worn oilcloth and lavishly appointed with four construction paper turkeys per place setting.

But it really didn't matter all that much in Rat Coulee, 1942.

We felt very close, perhaps like the Pilgrims did on their arrival at Plymouth Rock, where there was no electricity, and no flush toilet.

In 1943, we'll have roast chicken, lefse and mincemeat pie.

But in 1942, we thankfully settled for a home not ravaged by war, for family members who made do with what was at hand, family members who loved one another.

And, of course, glorified rice.

-by Dave Wood, columnist

Dave Wood's column Woodworking appears regularly in the River Falls Journal's print edition.