Thanksgiving: Making memories

ESCANABA – People think big at Thanksgiving time . huge banquet tables heaped with everything from tiny pickles to a plump golden brown turkey.

A grand meal just like on the pages of the Martha Stewart magazine is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Parades, football games and ginormous sales at the stores top the list of Thanksgiving “to do” lists. But somewhere tucked in back of everyone’s mind is a tiny “simple” tidbit of Thanksgiving. Maybe a memory so small that it seems unimportant.

Small traditional treasures like Mom’s dressing recipe, a favorite Thanksgiving platter, or a special tablecloth make impressions that last a lifetime.

My sister Lori and I collaborated on this column filled with simple Thanksgiving thoughts and memories.


I remember a special book of the 1970s called “A Cranberry Thanksgiving” (by Wende and Harry Devlin) which tied together my love of Mom, food and reading.

The tale of a young girl named Maggie included colorful illustrations and a special surprise at the end – an actual recipe to try.

I begged Mom to make “Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread,” and before you knew it she had grated some orange peel, greased the baking tins and laid out the ingredients.

The sweet/tart and zesty bread was a hit with the family, and I liked the fact that I had been the instigator. It was the beginning of a long relationship with Mom and the art of pleasing people’s palates.


Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes! That’s something I can smell, touch and taste just thinking about Thanksgiving.

Mom often fed 40 or more people for Thanksgiving dinner, and mashed potatoes was a traditional must to go with the turkey gravy.

I was always on the potato peeling crew. We purchased potatoes directly from the farms near camp by the 100-pound bagful. Mom had a special kettle for boiling potatoes that was huge.

I know a lot of people think peeling potatoes is a boring chore (like Beetle Bailey’s KP drudgery), but our spud-peeling bee was filled with joking and laughter. I can still feel the starchy white buildup on my hands after peeling the umpteenth dozen.

Dad often got drafted into peeling and insisted on using his pocket knife instead of a paring knife. We laughed at odd-shaped potatoes. We’d try to score points by peeling the potato’s skin in one single spiral strand. Mom said if you tossed the strand over your head it would land on the floor in the shape of the initials of the man you would marry! (I don’t know if mine ever made a D.W., but I ended up getting a David Wils).

It’s not the great and the grand and the biggest and the best, but it’s simply the time spent together that makes Thanksgivings special.

Here is my Mom’s recipe for making lots of mashed potatoes:

Peel LOTS of potatoes. Rinse.

Place in a heavy kettle and cover with water and a tablespoon of salt. Boil until tender. Carefully drain heavy kettle into a strainer. Return potatoes to kettle.

Add 2 sticks of butter or oleo and an 8-ounce package of cream cheese, along with dried onion flakes (about 2 tablespoons). Mix and mash, adding milk to desired consistency.

Spoon into buttered Pyrex bowls and sprinkle with paprika and a dollop of butter on top. Bowls can be prepared and reheated in time for serving to table.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

This column was written by Karen (Rose) Wils along with her sister, Lori Rose. Karen and Lori are lifelong residents of north Escanaba. Karen’s folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.