Monday, December 3, 2012

Grandpa and Thanksgiving

Papa, Nana, Great-Grandma, Me, Grandma, Grandpa - at my baptism 
(I think this photo was taken at Nana and Papa's residence in Chicago)

I only have a handful of memories of Grandpa, my paternal grandfather.  His birthday was recently.  It's almost hard to extricate a memory of him solo, not entwined with one of Grandma.  In many ways they seemed the balance of one another.  Not opposite, more so the requisite pair, like salt and pepper.  Grandpa was tall and sturdy, Grandma short and petite.  Grandpa seated and steady, Grandma fluttering and always in motion.  Grandpa was certain and definitive, Grandma demure and soft spoken.   

Grandpa / Uncle Don, Grandpa, Papa / Grandpa and Uncle Don

I remember breakfast in their kitchen on Wenonah Avenue, Grandpa seated in his spot at the head of the metal and Formica table, below the cuckoo clock (as a child I found the clock fascinating).  Coffee percolating on the stove top, my sisters and I drinking sticky sweet apricot nectar juice, Grandpa having "poop juice" (prune juice).  Toast spread with whipped butter, real butter, not margarine as at our house.  Grandpa demonstrating how to scrape the butter knife at an angle around the container just so to get a thin sheet of butter, easier to spread and melt, leaving a smooth cone of butter (no jabbing leaving it all gouged!)   

The "rec room" at our house in Crystal Lake.  Background - Uncle John, Uncle Don, cousin Don, cousin Rick.  Foreground in the big brown chairs - Aunt Cheryl and Aunt Mary Ann. 

I remember Grandpa and Papa seated in the big brown chairs at our house flanking the fireplace.  The old lions holding court, mayhem all around, a flurry of kids, dogs, chatting adults, mingling, laughter, festivities.  The room stuffy-hot from the fire and all the bodies.  Everyone over-fed, the kids over-sugared and over-stimulated.  Why don't you kids go and play in the basement???     

 Grandpa and Grandma's basement.  Foreground - Mum, me, cousin Rick, Grandpa.  
Background - Great-Grandma, Dad, Grandma 

I remember Grandpa in the basement of their house.  The Manhattan was his drink.  As he would get to the bottom, he would give us kids the maraschino cherries.  We would swing by, "Are you done yet?"  He would make us our own Shirley Temples with extra cherries, but it somehow seemed more fun to get the cherries from Grandpa's glass.  

I remember Grandpa carving the golden turkey at Thanksgiving.  Tables lined end to end, a jumble of chairs, everyone squeezed in.  All the traditional foods, plus we always had sauerkraut and dumplings, a nod to their Polish and Czech ancestries.  


I probably spent more Thanksgivings at Grandma and Grandpa's than anywhere else so far in my life.  Grandpa died of a heart attack when I was thirteen.  I think Grandma hosted a few more years, and then the celebration migrated to Aunt Cheryl's house.  I think some at my parents' as well, those years are not as etched in my memory.  Grandma contributing less to the meal each year as her dementia increased.  Her desire to help never decreased though, she seemed uneasy relaxing and letting others do the work.   

Some recent Thanksgivings-past - Niece Anna at the only Thanksgiving in the 
condo on Claremont / Adam and Genevieve at the first Thanksgiving at our current 
house /  Anna, Michael, Jim / Maggie and the table Adam made for our feasts!

Into my twenties a few Thanksgivings were spent away from family.  The first was in Southeast Asia.  Thanksgiving night found my travel companion and I on a sleeper car in Vietnam, as we laid on the hard plank "beds" (and best not to mention the train's "bathroom" at all), he said from across the dark aisle, "Well, Happy Thanksgiving!"  The next year was in Aberdare National Park, Kenya, where they did a good job putting out a full traditional American thanksgiving meal for dinner.  Both Thanksgivings were good experiences.  I learned much about how truly blessed my life is.  I tried to drop the word "need" from my vocabulary in regards to material possessions.  And more than that, just the stability of our lives here in the U.S.  No recent bloody wars, no government coups.

Thanksgiving in Austin (and San Antonio) - Dad and I visit 
my sister, Kim, and brother-in-law, Garet.  

Later, there was the year my thoughtful Aunt Cheryl and family brought the entire Thanksgiving meal to my parents' house, my mother too ill to travel to their home in another suburb.  And the following year my father and I spent the holiday in Austin, visiting my sister and brother-in-law.  The change of scenery was helpful.  

Scenes from Thanksgiving 2012 

The next spring I would meet Adam, and since then we've hosted.  It's hard to believe "my generation" is now the one preparing the holiday meals!  Now on the other side, I have much admiration for my grandmother and all those who have done the cooking.  Whew!  I have many fond memories of those Thanksgivings past.  There may not be sauerkraut and dumplings, or even maraschino cherries, but I hope that the gatherings we hold are creating good memories and a sense of tradition for our nieces and nephews, the next generation. 

Wishing you many fond holiday memories!


Grandma's Czechoslovakian Fruit Squares 

Grandma's Czechoslovakian Fruit Squares 


1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons milk
2-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 can apricot preserves


  1. Cream butter and sugar until light.  Add yolks, blend thoroughly.  Add milk.  
  2. Sift dry ingredients and add to sugar mixture by hand.  Add nuts and blend by hand.  
  3. Spread half of mixture into a greased 8-inch square pan by patting with hands.  Cover with preserves to 1/4 inch of edge.  Carefully cover preserves with remaining dough, a piece at a time on floured palms of your hands.  
  4. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour.  
  5. Cut into squares.  Makes 25-30 squares.  

Apricot filling / the dough / first layer with apricot / topping / all baked

Notes from Tara:
  • I made these gluten free by substituting 350 grams of all-purpose gluten free flour mix and 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum.  Next time I might add a little more xanthan gum, or be sure the squares are entirely cool before trying to remove from the pan.  The top was a little crumbly.  
  • Canned fruit preserves can be found in the baking aisle of the grocery store.  You could probably use fruit jam if you can't find it.  
  • See below for an easy way to get bars out of a baking pan!

Cut two pieces of foil / size and fold / put first piece in place / 
size, fold, and place second piece the other way / grease as usual