My mom grew up in a large family. She always talked about the big traditional family gatherings where everyone traveled to one house and celebrated together. Growing up we still had a traditional dinner, but it usually was a small group. I never quite understood the big production of Thanksgiving, but I knew my mom was continuing a tradition that was very special to her.
My grandparents have both passed and my mom’s four siblings live very far from each other. We won’t be spending these holidays together, we won’t be sitting around the table reminiscing, but I thought it still to be a great opportunity to find out more about those big traditional Updegraff family dinners.
Thank you to my mom, Uncle Rusty, and Aunt Betty for taking the time to answer my questions. I combined them together below:
When the family lived in Youngstown, Thanksgiving was held at Nana’s (Elizabeth Murphy) house at 554 Ridge Avenue. Nana’s dining room had a crystal chandelier with a china closet in the corner and the tablecloth was Quaker lace. There was always a beautiful tablecloth. My mom recalls opening the china closet and smelling the wood.
Nana baked homemade pies and rolls that would melt in your mouth. On the table would be turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, cranberry, candied yams, stuffed celery, and chicken noodle soup with homemade noodles.
Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and friends would come over. Uncle Eddy and Aunt Mill would eat dinner at their house earlier in the day and then would come over afterwards to visit with the family.
There was so much food and everyone would be stuffed. Some of the men would comment, “I’m so full, I need to roll into the living room.” The men would watch football, while the women cleaned up.
After Grandma Kate and Pop Pop (Katherine Murphy & Robert Updegraff) and the six kids moved to Cudahy, California in the spring of 1963, the Thanksgiving tradition continued. The house was small already with 8 people, but there were always many visitors. Nana would come out from Ohio a week before so that she could bake the pies and rolls. Grandma Kate would add tables to extend and make one big table.
Food on the table included the chicken soup with homemade noodles, a pickle and olive plate, stuffed celery with pimento /pineapple cream cheese, salad, two kinds of cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with oranges, mashed potatoes, french green beans with tomatoes and sautéed onions, yellow wax beans with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, turkey, stuffing, rolls, and gravy.
Nana and Grandma Kate did all the cooking with Aunt Betty and my mom helping. The boys were not allowed in the kitchen. Washing all the dishes afterwards was a lot of work, even after they bought a dishwasher it still took 3-4 loads! But they would sing in the kitchen all their favorite Patsy Cline songs and others like Dean Martin’s ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ and Jeanne Pruett’s ‘Satin Sheets’. When all the work was done, they would join the men in the living room and watch Lawrence Welk or another holiday special show.
As the six kids got older and moved out, they still gathered for the holidays. Usually Nana, Grandma Kate, Pop Pop, Uncle Bobby, Aunt Betty and her husband Dan, my mom, Uncle Danny and his girlfriend Susan, Uncle Richy and his wife Debbie, Uncle Rusty, and the grand kids Jamie, Chad, Michelle, and Christy would all be in attendance. Sometimes Uncle Dick and Aunt Arlene would come out from Ohio with their kids Mark, Dawn, Dirk, and Marla.
Aunt Betty moved to Alaska when her husband Dan took a job in 1978 and it was hard to get together for Thanksgiving. Grandma Kate passed away unexpectedly in 1980 and after that it seems like the family all started to celebrate on their own. My mom and Aunt Betty have continued the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with their families. Uncle Rusty has started his own tradition of a modern Thanksgiving with close friends. They are all thankful for the hard work Nana and Grandma Kate did and will always remember those big traditional dinners.