We awakened that Thanksgiving morning to a world drained of color. Steamed up windows with frost around the edges told Libby and me that we now lived in a world of pure white. The excitement of what lay outside pulled us right out from under our electric blanket to run bare-footed to our bedroom window, and one look outside confirmed our suspicions–this would definitely be a Thanksgiving to remember!
A good 18 inches of snow blanketed our hill and everything on it. The driveway had disappeared, and the shrubbery, also blanketed with snow, rose gently from the earth like humps on a camel’s back. The air stood still, allowing the snow to stack up on even the smallest twig of each tree. As the sun came up just a little later that morning, it revealed what looked like a million sparkling diamonds as it reflected off the snow. Oh, my goodness, God lived in our yard that Thanksgiving morning!…But, on this perfect morning, one thing was not quite perfect…
We loved Thanksgiving! No school! Parades with fantastical floats, high-flying balloons, and talented performers! Tantalizing aromas in the air! Football in the afternoon! And if that wasn’t enough, the best thing of all was that we had Thanksgiving dinner at our house, and Maw and Paw and MommyBlanche and Granddad traveled to us rather than the reverse which happened on Sundays and other holidays. For a homebody like me, celebrating the holiday at home felt like a pure piece of heaven.
So, excitement suddenly mixed with trepidation as I lost myself in the stark whiteness that enveloped our hill. If I looked down the covered driveway just far enough, I could see the covered highway as well. 18 inches of snow on the highway meant problems any day, but on a major holiday, the snow could settle in for a long rest; there would be no snow plows for quite some time.
It took much more than snow to dampen Mom’s Thanksgiving spirit. All of Wednesday (her regular day off from Sears) had been devoted to make-ahead dishes like dressing, macaroni salad, slaw, deviled eggs, and chocolate and butterscotch pies. (We were not big pumpkin eaters.) Up by 4 that morning, Mom had the thawed wild turkey roasting happily by 4:30. She slipped back to bed for a quick nap and a little more rest before setting in on the hectic day. Back up by 6, homemade roll dough came next, and then our usual breakfast of sausage, biscuits, and gravy.
As the four of us sat down for breakfast that morning, conversation centered around the big snow we found upon awakening. Amazingly, we had not lost power, so the meal itself would not have to be modified. Now, that one imperfect thing I mentioned earlier cut through any other conversation. How would we possibly get my grandparents to the only holiday meal we had at our house? As beautiful as the Thanksgiving snow was, I willed it away with all my might as I intensely wished that Maw and Paw and MommyBlanche and Granddad could be there.
Breakfast now history, Mom started on the rest of the meal in earnest. Daddy insisted on having dinner on the table by 11:30, so we raced the clock from this point forward. Mom put Libby and me to setting the table while she checked the turkey, then punched down the roll dough and prepared to make out the rolls that melted in your mouth.
Oh, those rolls! Libby and I would sit on the opposite side of the kitchen bar as Mom made out the rolls just waiting for both her hands to be occupied with forming a roll. The moment that happened, we took turns sticking a hand into the bowl and quick as lightning, pulling out a bit of dough, and popping it in our mouths. And every year, Mom had the same words for us, “You girls stop that! Don’t you know that dough will swell up in your stomach and make you sick?!?” Either we never got enough to make us sick before she started smacking our hands, or she just feared we would eat all the dough, and we would have no rolls for dinner.
About that time, Daddy, who had gone outside to check on the dogs, came back in and told us he thought he would take the shortcut through the woods down to the foot of the hill to check on Maw and Paw and the farm down there. Of course, he made sure we knew he would be back by 11:30 for Thanksgiving dinner. As he left, I wondered how enjoyable the meal would be without my grandparents there.
Libby, still a little young at that time to help much in the kitchen, ran to the family room to sit right up against the TV screen to watch the Macy’s Day Parade while I helped Mom in the kitchen. Mom started peeling potatoes, and I knew better than to offer to help her. She hated the way I peeled potatoes, always telling me that I took half the potato with the peel. She could run her knife around those potatoes and take just the skin off; I still can’t do that. So, I made tea and got coffee ready to perk.
And so it went. Mom cooked with a fury, occasionally asking me to check the turkey, Libby sat with her face right in the TV screen, Daddy was still absent, and not a single snow plow had passed over our hill. Then, right around 10:30, right out of the blue, we heard a motor. A snow plow, it just had to be a snow plow! I felt a flicker of hope rise up as I raced from the kitchen to the living room door. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Here came Daddy! On the tractor! With the snow blade on the front and chains on the big rear wheels! Maw stood on the one side of him, hanging onto his arm for dear life, and Paw stood on the other, holding onto the back of the seat. At least two of my grandparents would make it up our hill for Thanksgiving dinner that day! Not perfect, but I would take it!
At 11:30 sharp, the six of us sat down to a table that practically groaned under the weight of all the most wonderful food I could imagine. Turkey, dressing, oh those rolls, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, peas, broccoli, macaroni and cheese, candied sweet potatoes, macaroni salad (one macaroni dish is never enough!), slaw, baked apples, and probably a couple of other dishes I’ve forgotten spilled over the table and onto the kitchen bar, but it all had to wait for just another few moments. Bowing our heads, we gave thanks for God’s grace, for the bounty of the day, for another year of good health, good crops, good fortune, and for family and loved ones both near and far. We were blessed indeed…I was blessed indeed.
I grew up in a family of great cooks, including Mom. The rolls I speak of in this Thanksgiving story were her specialty, and no one else in the family could duplicate them until she taught me over the course of years. These yeast rolls are deceptively simple, but folks can’t get enough of them.
The best example of this that I can share is from the annual family reunions that Tom’s family used to have here in Greeneville where his ancestral home is. Attended by 40-60 family members from all over the United States each year, my only job was to make and take my mom’s rolls. I started making rolls about 4:00 the morning of each reunion, and by 11:00, I usually had well over 200 rolls baked and carefully packed to take out to their family homeplace. I never came back home with a single roll ever. Some years later, after the older family members passed on and the reunions stopped, one cousin confided in me that she filled her pockets full of rolls well before the reunion began to break up so she would have some to take home with her.
How thankful I am that I watched and listened so closely as Mom worked with me all those years ago! In thanksgiving for her life and in loving memory of her, I am honored to share with you the recipe for:
My Mom’s Rolls
1 pkg. (or 2 tsp) active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
¼ – ⅓ cup of Crisco
¼ cup sugar
¼ -½ tsp. salt
5-6 cups of White Lily All Purpose Flour, sifted 2-3 times
Sprinkle yeast over 1 cup of the warm water. Let stand at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile,cream Crisco, sugar, and salt together in a large, thick walled bowl. Add remaining cup of warm water, and mix creamed Crisco and Sugar.
Gradually add sifted flour about 1 cup at a time. This is the tricky part. You don’t need a stiff dough as with some yeast breads. You should be able to handle the dough gently, and it should retain some moisture. It should just pull away from the bowl and hold together, but that’s all.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and knead gently several times until it can be lifted intact. Wash and grease the mixing bowl and place the dough back into it. Do not over knead. (The whole process up to this point shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.) Cover with a damp cheesecloth, set in a warm place, and let rise until at least doubled.
Punch the dough down and turn back onto a floured surface. Do not knead. Roll to about ¼ inch thickness with a floured rolling pin. Cut with a biscuit cutter. Dip each biscuit shaped roll into melted butter, fold in half, and place closely together on a baking sheet. Let rise again until at least doubled.
Bake at 450 – 500 degrees until golden brown (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from oven, and brush with melted butter.
I know these are very detailed instructions, but don’t let them intimidate you. The most important thing is to not over handle the dough.
I wish I had a picture of our Thanksgiving table, but if one was taken, I could not find it. Also, it never occurred to me to take a picture of the rolls I make from Mom’s recipe, so the photo that accompanies my story is one I found online at:
This photo looks very similar to the finished product of the recipe.