Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Extra! Sometimes things fall into place

Critic At Large

A Thanksgiving Day column

A kitchen set like in the column.


It’s a Thanksgiving Day at 38th and Mitchell.


Everyone has eaten too much.

My father is asleep on the living room couch, lying back sitting up with his mouth open. As usual, he is sitting on yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal, not bothering to move the newspaper.

His belt is open, as is the top button on his pants.


Let him be.

He gets to relax.

Be thankful there has been no call for him to race to the plant to direct the repair of a faulty electrical junction box or cracked ammonia line or gushing steam valve.

At this Thanksgiving meal, the boss did not jolt upright upon hearing the kitchen telephone ring.

No call today, and the boss is out on the couch.

My mother is in the kitchen, humming as she gathers leftovers.

We devoured turkey with homemade dressing.

My parents discussed which recipe it would be – her family’s or his.

It turned out to be bits of both.

Coming out of the oven, the turkey glowed with a crispy brown skin.

Twelve pounds.


My oldest brother helped my mother lift the hot pan to the yellow Formica kitchen table.

We ate in the kitchen of the Cape Cod-style house, packed like sardines.

Large sardines. My father is 6-foot-3, my oldest brother 6-foot-6, with the rest of us boys heading in that direction.

After a prayer by my father, we dug in.

Heard next were the sounds of utensils on plates.

Not much conversation.

Six people, busy.

This is the first Thanksgiving in our brand-new house.

Everything is new-new.

Walk into a bedroom, and the paint smells fresh.

The attic wafts of wood just from the lumberyard.

Even the basement smells of new cement.

The yard is a patchwork of grass from thrown seeds.

Some day, the five-in-one-apple tree would produce apples, the mountain ash branches would dip with clusters of orange berries (not worth tasting) and the magnolia tree would burst with big pink blossoms. Today, the trees are sticks in the ground.

The neighborhood is quiet for once.

Usually, it throbs and pulses with sounds and odors of industry.

The factory across the street makes equipment parts by pouring molten aluminum into forms.

Not far away is another plant that does the same with iron.

Heavy smoke plumes are the Chanel No. 5 of manufacturing in our neighborhood.

In one direction, the whirring sound of factory crane motors is heard all hours of the day.

In the distance can be seen a cluster of eight-story grain elevators.

To get to our house from one direction, you drive across a set of eight railroad tracks – bumpity, bumpity, bumpity, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump.

At any time of day, a rumble of a diesel locomotive often is accompanied by a KABOOM as ton by ton of railroad cars are coupled.

Today, all that is quiet.

Uninterrupted, my father can nap, or as he calls it, “rest my eyes.”

Between the six of us, there isn’t much of the turkey to put in the fridge.

I had the drumstick.

My mother’s piece of choice was the neck.

My father ate the gizzard after he polished off a thigh and half a breast.

We did serious damage to the mash potatoes, stuffing and beans.

Most of the cranberry sauce is left. Not my favorite.

All that remains of the pumpkin pie? Crumbs on the bottom of the glass.

My brothers and I make our way through the dish washing.

The three of them tease one another, tell jokes or impart great knowledge about the best way to do something or other.

I’m still too small to reach the cabinets, so I place plates and cups on the table when dry.

The day is… just us.

Nothing in particular happens.

New house.

Thanksgiving Day.

A mother and father and their four sons.

Just them.

Just us.

Sometimes things fall into place.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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