(Providence, Rhode Island) – It’s great to be back on the road this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, taking a break from my reporting duties in West Virginia and being with my family in Rhode Island. It reminds me that my love of good food and of politics have been intertwined for more than 50 years. Oddly enough, I owe much of my passion for both to two women named Margaret, who went by the nickname of “Peg!” Let’s brunch on that this week:
My first cooking lesson came on Thursday November 28, 1963. It’s the first Thanksgiving Day I remember. I was just four and a half years old. Most children that young would not recall such an occasion, but something so profound happened just six days earlier that it is forever burned into my memory.
President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Less than a week later - on Thanksgiving - the whole nation was still in shock. “What are we supposed to be thankful for?” is what I wondered, even at such a young age. Everyone was so sad.
But it was Thanksgiving; and I learned that day a lesson which has lasted me a lifetime. I learned that time marches on. The clock keeps ticking through our grief, and we just forge ahead, even if sometimes it feels as if we are "just going through the motions."
My mom, Mary Beth Curtis, and her mom, my beloved grandma, Margaret Kelley Dougherty, were in the kitchen early in the morning preparing our feast. Yes, her name was "Margaret," but she was just “Peggy” or “Peg” to all of us. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever called her "grandma."
In any case, they needed help getting the dinner ready, so Peggy taught me to chop all of the onions, celery, mushrooms, giblets, and bread slices to make the stuffing for the turkey. Back then, there were no cubed stuffing bags at the grocery store, so we just took slices of bread and let them sit out overnight to dry out. By the next morning, they were stiff as a board; and it was easy to cross-cut them into cubes.
It was tedious, but enjoyable. I loved the cutting and chopping with the big knife, and the stuffing tasted so good when it came out! To this day, the stuffing is my favorite part of the meal; and we still use the very same recipe
We did the same drill in 1964 - when I was in kindergarten – right after the Johnson-Goldwater Presidential election, and I listened as my mom and grandma talked politics while I chopped all the stuffing ingredients again. Sadly, less than a year later, my sweet Peggy was gone after a series of strokes. My heart was broken in October, 1965, as there would be no more Thanksgivings with her.
Fast forward to November, 1992, when I got a job in Washington, DC. We moved in with my wife’s great aunt, Margaret “Peg” Ware. Are you sensing a theme here?
“Aunt Peg,” as she was known, was 89 years old and legally blind, but as sharp as a tack. She was a retired home economics teacher who taught cooking for many years and was an expert in the kitchen. Her late husband was a retired Colonel in the Army Corps of Engineers, and they loved the political chatter of Washington, DC.
Since she could not see, Peg would sit in the kitchen as my wife Kathi or I prepared a meal. She would bark out orders. While the years had robbed her of her eyesight, her sense of smell and taste were heightened. She could tell what ingredient was too much or which was too little. It was as if she had “foodie radar.” It was amazing!
Aunt Peg loved politics, too! Every day when I returned home from my job as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill or later from my TV reporting job, she would always ask, “Was there any startling news in Washington today?” I remember watching such profound events as President Nixon’s funeral, and O.J. Simpson’s bizarre white Bronco chase in Los Angeles on her TV. She just loved the news. Even though she could not see, she was a political junkie at heart. Margaret “Peg” Ware died in September, 1999, at the age of 96.
We shared seven Thanksgiving dinners with Aunt Peg; and I shared six with my Grandma Peg. That’s thirteen years of Turkey Day blessings with two great cooks and political chatterboxes named Peg. Talk about something to be thankful for. God bless their souls!
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