Thanksgiving Traditions

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:

1950’s Ohio
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.

1960’s California
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.

1970’s California
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.

13 Responses

  1. Cathy Brown

    Reading your blog about Thanksgiving dinner traditions of the past brought back memories of the large family holiday dinners at my grandparents house way back in the 1960s. My grandmother had a beautiful china cabinet, too, and after she passed away in 1986, my father brought it to our home. After my father passed away in 1996 and my mother moved to Denver, the china cabinet was moved all the way out to Santa Barbara, where my sister lives. Now, whenever I visit my sister, I open the doors to the china cabinet and the smell of that old wood takes me back to those wonderful holiday feasts we had at my grandparents house.

  2. Aunt Betty

    Good Job Katie, but I would like to let you know that the dates are not correct. We moved to Cudahy, CA. from Ohio in spring of 1963. I was 12 when we moved and turned 13 in July of 63. I always will remember that because Marilyn Monroe died in August of 1962 and we were all at Lake Milton in Ohio when the news broke that she was dead. My dad really liked her and I just remember how he acted when he heard the news. I started Bell High in the 7th grade that September and Kennedy was assasinated Nov. 1963 and I was in Home Economics 5th period when the principal announce that the President was dead. Just wanted to correct that so you have it right. Thanks You, Aunt B

    1. Aunt Betty

      Also, I believe we moved to Huntington Park (3629 Hope St.) about 1966. The reason I am thinking that I met Dan in 1965 and I was15 and not allowed to date till I was 16 and he asked me out after his football game and I knew I was not going to be allowed but I asked my mother (begged) and she finally gave in but we did not tell Dad. Dad worked the late shift and so I had to be home before 11 because Dad got home around 12.

  3. Aunt Betty

    So I met Dan in 1965 and we were still living in Cudahy. My Mom really liked Danny right off the bat so she would let me go out with him with my Dad not knowing. Finally Mom confronted Dad and told him that she thought I should be able to go out on a date and of course my Dad said NO! He said “My daughter is not allowed to go on dates”, and my Mother said “she is my daughter too and I say she can”. Well that created a bit of an arguement so after I told Dan that my Dad will not let me date yet one night our door bell rang (It was about 8:00) and I got up to see who was there and when I opened the door it was Danny (I was shocked & scared). My father asked who was there and Dan said ” I am sir as he pushed the door open. He then walked right over to Dad with his hand out and said, “I am Dan Nickerson Mr. Updegraff and I would like to take your daughter out if it is ok with you and Mrs. Updegraff”. Dad did not know what to say but for him to sit down. So that was the beginning of a long relationship 35 years.
    I am really rattling on here, just some more history for you.
    Love you
    Aunt B.

  4. Wonderful article. You did a great job of recording all those memories. I really enjoyed reading the comments too! Thank you for sharing your family and all the memories in the COG!

  5. Wow! I love all the memories. It reminds me of when I was growing up and my grandmother would host her seven children, spouses, and 29 grandchildren. Of course, not everyone would make it every year, but there was always a houseful!

  6. Robin Murphy Booker

    My father, William Murphy, Sr., passed away January 9, 2000 at the young age of 62. His parents were Edward & Mildred. I found this website and can’t stop reading about the Murphy family history. Thank you so much!!!! Robin Murphy Booker

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