Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Single Most Memorable Holiday I've Ever Had - Helga, 79

When I walked down the gangplank in New York Harbor that fifth day of October 1955, I knew exactly how the Pilgrims must have felt landing at Plymouth Rock on that fateful day in 1620, setting foot on new land, experiencing the sights and sounds of a new country00a different continent!

Instead of curious Indians standing near the landing site, my fiance, Henry Fentross, met me at the pier with a bouquet of roses.

We had met one year earlier in Germany, where he was stationed as a G.I.  As to customs and traditions in the USA, we both were greenhorns.  My husband-to-be had emigrated only three years before me from Germany before he was drafted.

The wedding took place in Monongahela, PA, with ten people attending--and that included the bridal couple.  When we arrived from church, neighbors, strangers to us, had lined up in front of our apartment, threw rice, wished us well, and presented us with small gifts and household items.

Since I was a fall bride, Thanksgiving was fairly close.  In Germany we celebrated something similar after the last harvest had been brought in from the field.  We had called it Erntedankfest.  Now I was expected to prepare my first American Thanksgiving dinner.  The few new in-laws I had in this country had been invited.  How to cook a turkey?  I had no idea!  I still felt safer with a goose, the traditional German holiday meal.  Mother had let me prepare the last Christmas goose back home.  After a long search my husband finally found a goose in a small poultry shop out of town.  I decided to serve potato dumplings and sweet-and-sour cabbage with the bird. 

Dinner preparations were well underway.  The goose was in the oven with whole raw apples as stuffing to absorb the fat.  The saltwater for the dumplings had started to boil, and I was pouring more red wine on the simmering cabbage when my mother-in-law arrived.

"Did you have fish in the roaster?" she asked, sniffing the air.  I also could smell a fishy odor escaping from the stove as from a fish-fry.  We drained the liquid and poured fresh water into the roasting pan.  I hoped and prayed everything would turn out all right!

But that distinct, fishy odor persisted.  It even turned into an ugly stench, and pouring the liquid out once more and renewing the water didn't help one bit.

I checked on the potato dumplings and expected them to float on top when done.  These dumplings didn't behave like that.  As a matter of fact, they hugged the bottom and had dissolved into an ugly, gooey mess.  What was wrong?  I'd followed my mother's instructions to the letter.  I had even pulled out her airmail letter again and reread her directions once more.

When my husband arrived, entered the kitchen, and made a comment like was I roasting a whale, I was close to tears.  The red cabbage tasted good, though, and I poured a little more red wine vinegar into it to give a bit more sour taste.

And then we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, my first dinner as a new wife.  I served scrambled eggs on toast.  "But the cabbage was good," my husband said and hugged me.

The end of the story was that the goose had lived near Westmoreland Pond and had switched its diet from grass to small fish.  That fish oil had gone right into the meaty part of that bird.

I swore to myself that form now on we would celebrate the American holidays like the Americans did!  "When in Rome do as the Romans do," the old saying goes.  And from that day forward, I always served turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, and giblet gravy for every Thanksgiving meal!

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