CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Thanksgiving, my memory transports me to my childhood home and the aroma of roasting turkey, sage dressing, candied yams, pumpkin pies and yeast rolls; the busyness of my mother in a warm kitchen; the gathering of family members laughing and enjoying each other's company; and my father's visible delight with the entire event.
My mother was an excellent cook. The eldest of five children, it was normal for her to help her mother with the cooking, cleaning and looking after her younger siblings. By the time she was married, at 18, she was adept at housekeeping and cooking.
But, for some reason, she never taught me to cook. I had chores to do, but when I offered to help with a meal, she said something like, "I'm in a hurry" or "You can help by staying out of the kitchen."
Is it any wonder, then, that when I married, at 18, I could barely boil water? My young husband loved to eat. He must have been terribly disappointed. However, he ate whatever I managed to put together and rarely complained.
His mother blessed me with a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and I learned to make some decent meals and showed a particular flair for baking. Still, I'd never be a culinary artist.
We'd been married three years when my parents announced they would be in Cincinnati visiting my elderly grandparents on Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law was recuperating from surgery, so there was no chance of getting an invitation to her Thanksgiving table. We'd be on our own for the first time on this major holiday, just the two of us and our young son.
Opening her purse, my mother handed me a wad of papers. "Here are some notes that will help you with your dinner. I've written step-by-step instructions for everything, starting with the turkey and stuffing."
"I'm not sure I can do it!" I said, butterflies already forming in my stomach at the thought of making a turkey and all the trimmings.
"You'll do just fine," she said. "I've even included a list of things to buy at the grocery store."
I baked a pumpkin pie the night before the big day. That wasn't too difficult. After breaking up bread and corn bread for stuffing, and chopping onions and celery, I decided to turn in so I could get up early and get that big bird in the oven.
My husband and I were up before daybreak. We had a lot to do and, although I was a little excited about cooking my first holiday dinner, I was also nervous.
I was thankful to have help handling the 21-pound turkey. We washed it well, greased it with cooking oil, salted it inside and out and placed it in the pan. No fancy roaster, this. It was a dark blue enamel pan with no lifting rack to hoist the turkey out when it was done. But we'd seen our mothers do it many times with two large forks and were sure we could do it too.
Once it was in the oven, temperature set to 325 degrees, as the instructions ordered, it was time to make the stuffing, peel and cook potatoes and prepare other vegetables.
As the aroma of roast turkey began to float through the house, memories of other Thanksgivings flooded my senses. I felt happy and sad at the same time.
Those are the holiday memories of my childhood, I thought. I'm making new memories and traditions with my own family now. There's room in my heart for both.
Checking the turkey gave us a surprise -- it was coming along nicely. It looked moist, a little brown and it smelled heavenly. I basted it carefully and put it back in the oven. It was about halfway there, we surmised.