It’s always been hard for me to choose which I like better — the Thanksgiving meal or the leftovers. We always eat around noon, so there’s plenty of time for another sidle up to the trough. The stuffing, sweet potatoes, even the turkey seem to taste better for having sat in the refrigerator for several hours, their flavors intensifying. On Friday, when everyone else seems to have had their fill of the bird and its trimmings, I’m still happily dishing up smaller and smaller versions of the original meal and feasting myself into a sated coma.
When I was a kid, we didn’t seem to have as many leftover side dishes. Possibly that was because Mom kept the menu much simpler. My father wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about fancy casseroles and experiments with sausage stuffing. He wanted things to taste the way he thought they should taste, and he wanted his gravy dark (thanks to Kitchen Bouquet).
What I remember best about leftovers are the turkey sandwiches. I was raised Catholic, and before Vatican II, we were still required to abstain from meat on Fridays. This meant no turkey at all on the day after Thanksgiving. My mother told us how, when she and Dad were first married, they’d wait up until midnight on Friday so they could dig in to the turkey.
By the time I was 11, rules had loosened; and I think of those Friday lunches when Mom would put out the platter of cold, sliced white meat, a loaf of fresh white bread, and a jar of Miracle Whip. There wasn’t a lot of food I truly loved at that age, and we didn’t often have the opportunity to feast with abandon. With that leftover turkey, though, I could have all the sandwiches I wanted.
I probably wouldn’t like them as much now. I’ve lost my taste for commericial white bread. Remembering those sandwiches as I enjoyed them then, though, makes my mouth water. There was the flavor of the turkey heightened by the tang of the Miracle Whip and contrasted with the sponginess of the bread.
I treasured those post-Thanksgiving meals of turkey sandwiches. Maybe the atmosphere heightened their impact as well. Without the trappings and tensions of the official, more formal Thanksgiving meal, spirits were as bright and airy as that white bread. There were plenty of tensions at holiday meals, but I don’t remember tensions while we made and consumed turkey sandwiches. Thanksgiving just wouldn’t have been the same without them.