Thanksgiving Day still ranks among the principal occasions for family gatherings, especially in New England.

Memories of “Turkey Day” in the Twin Cities from the mid-1950s came back into sharp focus for me when I took a look at some pages of the Lewiston Daily Sun and Lewiston Evening Journal from that period.

Advertisements had been featuring deals on turkeys and all the fixings for days. Department store ads were beginning to generate the perennial Christmas shopping excitement.

The kitchen at our old farmhouse on the North River Road in Auburn was filled with all the wonderful aromas of the season during my early school years. My grandmother and mother shared the preparation of the family feast, and on Thanksgiving Day the house was overflowing with aunts, uncles, cousins and other visitors.

There’s plenty of proof that Thanksgiving has always been a gala holiday in the Twin Cities. It was customary for this newspaper in those days to list column after column of family plans for the holiday. There would be two or three pages packed solid with a listing of guests expected at many L-A homes.

I wasn’t sure I would find my family’s plans for Thanksgiving 1954 but there it was, midway through those hundreds of names published in the newspapers of Wednesday, Nov. 24.

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It said, “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Sargent and sons, David and James, of the North River Rd., Auburn will entertain …” and it went on to name more than a dozen relatives, young and old.

That same newspaper had another paragraph with plans for a big family dinner elsewhere in Auburn.

It said, “Mr. and Mrs. V. C. (Verdal) Spofford and Miss Mary Spofford of West Auburn will entertain Mr. and Mrs. Cleba Spofford and family, Judith, Dennis, Ronald and Michael, all of Auburn.”

With old-time names like Verdal and Cleba, Judy’s grandfather and father had to put up with mispronunciations and misspellings all their lives. In fact, the holiday item in 1954 probably started it with “Celba,” an incorrect spelling of her Dad’s name.

I knew Judy and her brothers from elementary and junior high school days, but didn’t suspect that our families would be joined by marriage not many years later.
After several decades away from L-A, my wife, Judy, and I are back in that big farmhouse, where my brother also lives.

There are still many tangible connections here to those Thanksgivings of more than 50 years ago. The big black wood-burning Queen Atlantic stove still commands the kitchen where so many pumpkin, apple and custard pies were baked. Somehow, my grandmother managed the unbelievable logistics of preparing several stove-top vegetables at once while potatoes and biscuits baked in the oven.

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Of course, this was all done “from scratch.” Much of the food came from the summer’s garden bounty. There was squash … in those days the blue hubbard variety bigger than a basketball. There were carrots brought up from the cellar where they had been buried beneath dry sand that would keep them fresh through winter months.

There was no freezer. There was no electric stove with all kinds of time and temperature controls. There were no supplemental electric cook-pots nor any warming trays. Under careful watch of the cooking process, food moved from the stove-top’s hot spot over the firebox to the warm back corner.-Our daughters, Laurie and Susan, continue many holiday traditions through the years and quite often the holiday celebrations are swapped among our homes.

Thanksgiving brings an opportunity every year to teach the young ones in our family about a particularly important connection they have to the holiday.

Judy’s ancestry goes back to Mary Chilton, who was the first woman among those aboard the Mayflower to step off the ship onto the soil of the New World. It’s great to pass this history along to our children and to plan a trip someday to show them Mary Chilton’s resting place at King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston.

The memories Judy and I have will not be repeated for the children growing up today. Parts of the dinners these days come frozen or prepackaged in ways our grandmothers could not imagine. Nevertheless, we need not doubt that every new generation will have equally important memories.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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