©Shers Gallagher 2015
At Gran and Gramp’s house it was always chaotically wonderful with the five children and their spouses bringing with them all their children, my nephews and nieces, along with my own family of five siblings. My brother and I were around the same ages of three of our cousins, give or take a year. And the eldest was only two years older than her younger brother, a year older than me. Along with all the younger cousins, we always had plenty of kids around to play with. Our drive to get there was on dairy land roads. As we approached the town’s vicinity, we would recognize how close we were from the smell of cattle and farmland, the richly pungent odor of cow pies mixed with rain wet grassland.
When we arrived, there were already two tables set: the main table for the grownups and the other long and lower table for us kids, which we loved because of no adults being there to monitor our behavior and make us eat or not eat certain foods. We never really thought of minding our manners then, as long as we didn't get too carried away with ourselves.
Wafting through the house were kitchen smells of roasting turkey, dark and oily gravy, and cornbread stuffing. I remember the aroma of sage, thyme, black pepper, parsley, celery, onion, butter and stock (juice of the bird), but this could be that of my mother's stuffing, which she sometimes brought with her as an extra dish, as they were always running out of stuffing. But our Gran had most things prepared by the time we all arrived: the sweet potato casseroles and pies she’d bake the day before, only heating up the casseroles before they were served. My mom and her sisters would bring with them other warm vegetable dishes, salads and desserts, like divinity fudge and hand dipped chocolates. Gran insisted on baking the pull-apart butter buns, herself, and at the last minute too so they would be hot and fresh, melting in your mouth.
What I loved most as a kid at these feasts were the olives I could wear on my fingers like rings till eating them off and replacing them with others. Another of my cousins liked celery sticks, which he’d spread and eat with peanut butter that stuck to his teeth. And another relished in walking around with little gherkins stuck up his nose, an equally repulsive thing these boy cousins for some reason liked doing even though we girl cousins ignored them.
While food was bubbling on the stove, Gran would play a bit of piano. Gramps and one of the uncles were Barbershoppers and would sing and play corny songs like ‘Oh, That Tiger’. Then they’d growl and chase us around at the song’s completion. Sometimes Gran would play religious songs, like ‘I Come to the Garden Alone’, which I found sadly moving. If time permitted, a few aunts and uncles would break out cards and play poker while others would sneak out back and play a round of pool in the garage with Gramps till everything was ready. When it was time for the family to be called and gather round, we’d seat ourselves and wait for either my grandfather or the eldest uncle to say the blessing. Then we’d all dig in…eating, laughing, joking and eating some more till we could eat nothing further.
After turkey dinner, we kids would meander out to the front porch and swing in the big swing that could hold three, or even four of us, depending on our ages and growth spurts. We’d swing and laugh, singing our own made up songs as we counted the stars above to the background noise of grownup chatter and chinking dishes till all tables were cleared and things boxed up to be taken home or put away.
When it was time to go it was always on a full stomach, but not uncomfortably so. My oldest brother and I would invariably lay in the rear of the station wagon with the younger ones snoozing between blankets and pillows on its back couch-like seats. Together the bro and I would hum in low, soothing monotones, watching all the blinking lights shine and fade till falling asleep to the monotonous sounds of tires rubbing the road as we made our way home.