November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Kids' Table

Growing up, our Thanksgiving dinners were always at Grandma and Grandpa Ballenger’s house. Grandpa cooked two huge turkeys—one in the old basement kitchen and one in the oven upstairs—and the sweet scent of turkey roasting permeated the house. My brother and I loved to sneak down the basement and pick at the crusty top of the turkey down there. Upstairs, the closer it got to Time to Sit Down, the crazier (and noisier) things became. Potatoes, hot and soft, needed to be mashed and the milk and butter whipped in with the electric mixer. Gravy, made from the turkey drippings, required constant adding and stirring and testing—a group effort (“Here, stir this gravy a minute. Mom, I still think it needs more salt.”). The electric knife whirred as it sliced through the turkey. In the midst of it all, Grandma’s voice reigned supreme: “Someone cover that stuffing with foil. Where’s the second bowl for the potatoes? Get your hands off that turkey!”

Finally, it was Time. The eight adults took their seats around the dining room table, which had been elegantly set hours before with the best china. The seven of us grandkids, meanwhile, rushed to jostle over position at the folding tables pushed together in the living room, set with the everyday plates. A momentary silence hushed us all as grace was said. Then—well, I imagine there was polite passing in the dining room, but at the kids’ table bowls were swapped over and under, back and forth, and whatever you could reach was fair game.

For awhile, we were too busy eating to talk. But as the meal wore on, the fun began. Someone would make a sculpture out of mashed potatoes, which naturally had to be topped. Someone would tell a joke, which led to more jokes, which inevitably led to someone snorting milk out his nose. The generally hilarity would be briefly quenched when a parent called, “What are you guys doing in there?” Then the story-telling would resume in whispers, leading someone to lean in to hear better, resulting in a glass being knocked over and spilled (“Be quiet! Take my napkin! It’s on the carpet too!”) A contest to see who could make the most creative thing out of the leftovers on his plate ensued. Eventually, our game would be up when a parent came in and found the table in total disarray. Plates in hand, we filed into the kitchen—where it seemed a food bomb had exploded. The lucky ones escaped to the basement before clean-up.

I’ve had many wonderful Thanksgiving dinners since then, but nothing has matched those teen-age years at the kids’ table for sheer fun. How about you? Was there a kids’ table at the holiday dinners in your past?


  1. The Kids' Table is the best one in the house. These days, we have enough room for the kids (2) at the adults' table for holiday dinners, but I don't want to deprive them of a Kids' Table, so I set them at their own. Just for fun. And even though they don't bug me and I can't hear them, every once in awhile, I throw an, "What are you guys doing in there?" so they can have secrets.

  2. I see my cousin Eddie Ballenger at the far end of the table, and is that you Shelley in the middle with your mother Cathy next to you (on the right in the photo)? I also see my Uncle "Bal" (Lloyd Ballenger) on the right, and I think my cousin June Ballenger (your aunt) on the left in front. (The others I don't know). "Thanks for the memories, Shelley. Your "second cousin", Ron Gilliland


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