Seniors share Thanksgiving memories, traditions

Holiday traditions vary from family to family and culture to culture. So too, do those traditions vary from decade to decade. While recipe books pass down tidbits of history from a Thanksgiving meal, oral memories pass down the history of family tradition around the holidays.

Two members of the West Linn Adult Community Center were kind enough to share their memories of Thanksgiving meals and traditions from times past.

An unfortunate tradition

Marie Horvath grew up in Portland and has lived in West Linn for 45 years. She has two daughters and two grandsons. Her family has an unusual and unfortunate history of deaths — all on Thanksgiving VERN UYETAKE - Marie Horvath has lived in West Linn for 45 years. She cooked her first Thanksgiving meal at age 11 or 13.

The first death occurred around 1950. Since then, nine of her extended family members have passed away on Thanksgiving day.

“Every Thanksgiving we say to each other, ‘Well, I guess we made it this year,’” she said. “It was sad the first few years but we just laugh about it now. They’re all long gone and we’re all getting old.”

Horvath said she learned to cook on a wood stove at an early age. She cooked her first Thanksgiving meal around age 11 or 13 for her entire family of eight. Despite her young age, she said the experience wasn’t nerve wracking.

“We were always in the kitchen making cookies and candy and stuff,” she said. “We were brought up right.”

The Thanksgiving meal she cooked then, and the meal she cooks today, hasn’t changed much over the years. The meal consists of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, gravy, sweet potatoes, Jell-O salad, a relish plate and pumpkin and minced meat pie.

She said everything is made fresh, “my family doesn’t do anything out of boxes,” and without a recipe. Just like her mother and her mother’s mother — cooking just comes naturally.

“I don’t use recipes,” she said. “It’s all just in my head.”

The secret to her cooking — especially minced meat and pumpkin pies — is brandy.

“I put brandy in everything,” she added, laughing.

On average, Horvath fed 18 people at her Thanksgiving table. The family dressed casual and the meal wasn’t served on fancy China. The food is the most important part of the meal, not the plates, she said.

“I don’t have any China anyway. In my day, I don’t think anyone could afford it,” she said.

Although times and stoves have changed — Horvath’s sister has a grandchild that won’t eat anything but pizza — in her immediate family, the meal remains traditional.

“Both my daughters carried on the Thanksgiving tradition,” she said. “We all cook about the same. They’re both good cooks. They both grew up in the kitchen early.”

Horvath still cooks the meal with her daughters today. She said she “never grows tired of turkey” and recently cooked a 20-pound bird for festivities at the West Linn Adult Community Center.

“Thanksgiving is still my favorite meal to cook,” she said.

Rich in butter and tradition

Celeste Rose moved from Seattle to West Linn three years. She moved to be closer to her daughter and help take care of 9-year-old-twin grandchildren who attend Stafford Primary VERN UYETAKE - Celeste Rose has lived in West Linn for three years. She cooked Thanksgiving dinner on her great-great-grandmother's China.

Rose said her mother primarily did the Thanksgiving cooking — even as she became an adult. She describes the food of her childhood as a combination of Norwegian and French cooking.

“Talk about butter,” she said, chuckling.

For Thanksgiving dinner, the men wore ties, the women wore nice dresses and the children wore collars and tucked in their shirts. Christmas, on the other hand, was a white tie affair.

Rose said the best part about Thanksgiving as a child was listening to the women clean up after the meal in the kitchen.

“Cleanup was the best part at my grandparents’ house,” she said. “I remember the laughter and giggling from my aunts coming out of the kitchen. Nobody had dishwashers back in those days and every year somebody broke something.”

When Rose took over Thanksgiving duties from her mother, she cooked for an average of about 12 people. She used her great-great-grandmother’s full set of China with gold trim.

“It can’t go in the dishwasher, which meant we only brought it out for the holidays,” she said, still chuckling.

She said her holiday recipes primarily came from the original Betty Crocker cookbook, “the one that had cream of mushroom soup on every other page,” and her Thanksgiving meal was the same every year.

“It has to be the same old, same old. I don’t know why. It’s just what people expect,” she said, noting that in her family, you have to provide both cranberry jelly and fresh berries.

It’s been about 10 years since she cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal, but Rose is happy to have passed on the tradition. She said her daughter is a gourmet cook, “her dressing is so much better than mine,” and her son-in-law deep fries the turkey.

“I’m happy to have family to take on the brunt of work!” she said.

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