Come On, Baby, Do the Mashed Potato

By Ernie Witham   |   December 3, 2020

No doubt, this year we have had the stuffing knocked out of us. The coronavirus squashed any hopes of a normal year. The economy sank like a lead gravy boat. And we had a turkey in the…

 “Wait. Are you really going to make us suffer through a Thanksgiving pun column?”

 “Of course not, dear. Just trying to keep my readers abreast of the situation.”

 “Please stop.”

 “Your wish-bone is my command.”

Seriously, though, this may be the most unusual Thanksgiving since the one I spent with Franzia and the Swansons, as in three TV dinners and a box of estate Chablis.

When I was a kid in New Hampshire, we always went to Grammy and Grampa’s house, neither of whom was I actually related to. Henry Emerson adopted my mother and my Uncle Roland when they were six and four, respectively. Henry had several children of his own. Dot Emerson was his second wife. She had a daughter and several sisters, one of whom wore more makeup than the entire Kardashian family. She used to pinch my kid brother’s cheeks so much he looked wounded. “Jimmy! Have you been fighting?”

By the time I became one more bean in the family casserole… “Groaner!” “Sorry dear.”. . . most of these folks had children of their own. In all, there must have been 20-25 people. And I never could figure out how we were all connected.

“Hey Little Ernie (I was always called Little Ernie, so no one would confuse me with my old man, Ernie the elder) you remember Wayne, Shawn, and Steve, right?”


“Hey Little Ernie, you remember the Philbricks from Maine, right?”


“Hey Little. . .”

 “Can you not call me ‘Little’?”

“Sure. Hey kids you remember Ernie Junior, right?” Yeah, that’s better…

The big news of the day was how large a turkey Grammy had bought this year. “Twenty-two pounds? Wow!” “Butterball? No kidding.” “Enough giblets to make a gallon of guts gravy? Yum!” We all took turns looking at the turkey when Grammy opened the oven. There were many opinions as to when it would be ready. Most common one: no time in the immediate future.

The men all retired to the living room, where Grampa would light up a huge cigar and many of the other men would light up cigarettes. There was also a huge kerosene furnace in the room – which had been too large to fit into the cellar – adding to the ambiance. I used to hang out to learn some new dirty jokes and cuss words. Kind of a guy apprenticeship.  

Most of the female members of the family would be in the small kitchen making enough side dishes and pies to last until spring. “Just one slice?” “Not yet.” “Half a slice?” “Not yet.” “A chunk of burnt crust? Anything.” 

At some point, usually after several beers, one of the uncles would suggest a football game to be held on a grassy side yard next to the driveway where a bunch of cars were parked. Fortunately, it was before car alarms: “Thud. Boink. Splat.” “What should I do with this broken antenna?” “Hide it. Then go long again.”

Being an older home, it had another challenging feature: one bathroom. And it was right off the kitchen so everyone saw you go in and began timing you. “Don’t take too long!” “Others are waiting, Little Ernie.” “There’s more paper under the sink if that’s what you’re doing.” To this day, I can’t ever remember actually peeing on Thanksgiving.  

Seating was a logistical nightmare. A big table in the dining room. Another table in the kitchen. And there was a long closed-in unheated porch, where all us kids had to sit. When someone finally said, “let’s eat,” it was like trying to see how many college students you could fit into a Volkswagen Beetle.

And you did not want to be out of position when the announcement was proclaimed. Because all the kids fought for the middle of the table seats, where the turkey, potatoes, and stuffing were located. Miscalculate, and you were on one of the ends with all the vegetable dishes and the younger kids who spilled a lot. 

Sigh. This year I’m even missing those Brussels sprouts.

“Are you done writing your punny column, Dear?”

“Yes… I yam.” 


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