It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The sky was gray but the threat of snow held off during the drive from New York to Boston. We drove over rivers and highwayed through whatever woods were left as our children looked forward to going to their grandmother's house.
It was the annual family Thanksgiving get-together, where about 40 children and adults who made up our immediate family would meet to eat.
Not always a person who planned carefully, preferring to let things happen, my mother announced, upon our arrival, that everyone was coming to her house for the feast because my father had won a 25-pound turkey at the Eagles Hall.
She said the dinner would be in my honor and when I thought of 18 adults and 22 children in the small house I wanted to say, "I have no honor."
In past years, sisters and brothers' who lived locally would take turns feeding the flock, but this year she wanted it.
Taking a quick look at the average-sized dining room, overlarge kitchen, the old, four-burner oil stove in the kitchen, my haughty question was, "Where are you going to put them all?"
Her answer was just as haughty when she said, "Your father will take care of it."
While my father was always a provider for his family and a man who worked at many jobs to keep things going, carpentry was not one of his strong points.
For years I watched him hauling wood home, throw-away-crates from the back of some factory. He never missed a sale at the local lumber yard - doors from some building being torn down, maybe.
He would disappear into the basement with his treasures. For two or three days there would be sawing and hammering and then he would emerge with his latest creation.
The noise now coming up from the basement made you feel maybe the seating arrangements were in good, if not too perfect, hands.
The turkey sat thawing in the pantry. It was a big bird-chested but would only be a sparrow when the army of relatives brought their appeities.
Not being a person who can face any situation, no matter how small, with any degree of calmness, I began to pace, saying, "It won't be enough to feed everyone."
Sitting at her command post, a rocking chair in the kitchen alongside a telephone with the longest cord in the world, my mother sipped a cup of tea.
She prepared for the Thursday invasion by occasionally dialing one of her 12 children - a daughter, perhaps, to give quiet orders, or receiving an incoming call from a daughter-in-law who was bringing pies.
Her answer to my question about the amount of food was that "God will provide."
"I know He will," I said, "but in the meantime I better buy a fresh turkey. We better not try for the peeling of potatoes, we'll get boxes of flakes frozen vegetables, and paper plates. We have to cut corners to save time."
On Wednesday morning the safari in the supermarket was made up of my children a brother and his children, and four shopping carts.
We filled them with a second 25-pounder, six cartons of instant mashers, frozen peas, celery, nuts, rolls, bread for stuffing, butter, cranberry sauce, milk, also plastic plates, paper tablecloths, most things our Pilgrim fathers never had.
The afternoon was spent with my wife and me stuffing the two birds while my mother toured the neighborhood showing off her two New York grandchildren.
The stove was heated by a five-gallon oil bottle set in the back, and from time to time it had to be refilled from a huge drum in the backyard.
The prize from the Eagle's Hall was put into the oven during the late afternoon Wednesday giving us the same feeling of achievement Navy Yard workers might feel at a ship's launching. The hammering stopped in the basement and dinner was quick and beds were found by the tired pretty early.
I took the turkey watch by sprawling in a big rocking chair in the warm kitchen, happy with the aroma of turkey cooking.
The oil bottle had to be filled about 10 p.m., the turkey turned and basted a few times, but things were working. It might have been midnight while I sat dozing that I realized the Eagle turkey was ready to take out, and the second one ready to go in.
My father was an avid fan of paperback cowboy stories and they were tucked away all over the house. On window sills, radiator tops, in the bathroom, on top of the refrigerator, and the one next to the toaster on the kitchen table turned out to be a pretty good one.
As the gray of dawn peeked through the big windows I went to check the oil bottle and it needed filling. Through some quirk of insecurity I tapped the drum while the oil poured into the bottle and it had a hollow ring of almost emptiness.
Placing the bottle into the slot, washing my hands and turning the turkey, I foundled my new worry.
It was about 7 a.m. when I tapped my wife on the shoulder and whispered, "You will have to help me with the potatoes and peas, D-Day is only a few hours away." By 8 a.m. pans were full of mashed potatoes, giblet gravy simmered on the back of the stove, hundreds of peas warmed away quietly, the two turkeys were in the pantry.
The oil bottle was half full when my father came down to push pans out of the way on the stove and tripled his normal oatmeal breakfast to feed all of us. After breakfast I went with him to the basement with the curiosity a furniture lover might have approaching the unveiling of a show by his favorite designer.
My mother was right, he did it again. Somewhere in his travels he had gleaned four stiff-backed benches from a church that had gone out of business. Dusted off they didn't look bad in the kitchen.
The tables alongside the regular kitchen table, if not the same height, were adequate. The plank with the stencil "Fragile Handle with Care" barely showed through the big paper tablecloth covering it.
To add extra length to the dining room table he used some wide planks for extra table leafs that rose about an inch above the surface of the table, and would work if a diner was careful where he placed the gravy boat.
By 9:30 the first of the family began to arrive, and the influx was steady from then until 11.
Greetings were loud with lots hugging and crying kids.
"I have four pies, where shall I put them?"
"I made this squash dish, I want everyone to have some."
A quick glance showed the oil bottle to be dangerously low.
Cocktails were mixed. Older nephews and nieces headed for the traditional morning football game. The TV was turned on full blast to the Macy parade as the youngsters watched the giant balloons moving up Broadway.
My father was hiding in the basement starting a new project while my mother was busy calling neighbors to come see all her children and grandchildren.
One brother, a cop, had spread the word at the station house telling fellow officers it was open house. Police cars parked in front of the house as the duty cops ate turkey sandwiches.
Kids fell down and cried. Kids hit each other and cried. A brother and two brothers-in-law sang "Heart of My Heart," in close harmony.
Jim Turner, the oil man, dropped by for a drink and said he would fill the barrel in back but he hadn't been paid for last month's oil. He was paid in cash, given a drink, and he filled the barrel.
A doctor brother-in-law showed up in his sports car, roof down because the day turned out to be warm.
The kids were now lined up for a ride around the block as the holiday spilled out into the streets.
Later, somehow the children were fed first, and the older teen-agers were upset because they had not been moved into the adult section.
The Eagle turkey disappeared except for the carcass, and the skin on one side of the other turkey had been picked off by a 6-year-old who liked skin, standing unnoticed alongside the stove.
Grogginess set in about 4 in the afternoon and I walked to the porch to sit on a beat-up sofa that had made its way from the living room a few years earlier. It was a narrow porch that made it nice to put your feet up on the rail.
On one side of the house was an asphalt-paved parking lot for the delivery trucks and the people who worked in the chemical plant behind the house. This became a great softball court for the boys.
Across the street was the fire-hose factory, a place I spent my summers working.
Thanksgiving was now in full swing in and outside the house.
Up until then, not having sat down for the dinner is my "honor" and not really having been missed, I had no idea how hungry I was, but, now relaxed, I knew I was famished.
The two turkeys were torn to shreds, the carcasses resting on the table with the "fragile" board. There was no meat left. The pans on the stove were empty, but the oil bottle was full.
In the refrigerator, alongside a lot of beer there was a chunk of bologna. I grabbed it before one of the kids spotted it, picked up a discarded roll from the children's section, opened a can of beer and went back to sit on the porch.
Everyone pitched in to clean up the mess and after dissuading my mother from washing the plastic plates the house was back in order and everyone on the way home.
Back in her rocking-chair command post sipping a cup of tea with the telephone alongside her waiting for the travelers to call to report a safe home, my mother was content.
I sat hunched over the table eating a slice of salami and staring at the oil bottle.
After the third phone call she looked at me and said, "See, you were worried. I told you it would all work out."
And you had to admire her. She was right again.