Dinner a chance to share memories, turkey, love

Today is the first time in 25 years that Valaria Long truly is home for Thanksgiving.

At 86, she couldn’t share many of her memories, but the home where she lived with her husband, Orville, and raised their seven children stands out in her memory like a lantern glows in soft snow.

As the pies were set out at Albright LIFE Center, 901 Memorial Ave., Wednesday for the annual Thanksgiving celebration for the 36 participants who came that day, Long’s tear-filled eyes looked past the feast as she thought of her homecoming the next day.

“I will be going back to my house to have Thanksgiving with my family … for the first time since I left,” she said.

Her daughter, Cathy Spotts and granddaughter Cassie Spotts are cooking.

“They’re making this a big thing, me going back for the first time,” Long said.

While her memory is foggy, she remembers the loves and sorrows the house holds, the big smiles and the hard spills that come with really living, and, of course, all the warm holidays.

When she walks into the house, she knows her favorite part will not be the turkey or the stuffing.

“Just family being together,” Long said. “We can have turkey or stuffing any time, but you can’t always be all together with family.”

Eva Roles, 70, will celebrate Thanksgiving with her husband Robert, their three children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren at their Muncy home.

She often wishes she could go back in time, to a place in Williamsport where she grew up as one of 13 kids, and Thanksgiving dinner was near a large potbelly stove, on a round table.

The day would start with her mom, Jenny Bartholomew, making bread before anyone else was up.

Her dad, Harry Bartholomew and her brothers would go out turkey hunting – if they didn’t get one, there would be no turkey for Thanksgiving, as things were tight. Nonetheless, her mom still would fix a complete meal with a chicken from out back.

The kids would help pluck the feathers, and when it was cooked, it was delicious, Roles said.

“My mother, she was the kind of person who taught us to share everything because there was not much to share,” she said. “That’s the way we were brought up. We knew what we didn’t have, but we were thankful for what we did have.”

The kids slept at both ends of the beds in the 3.5-bedroom house.

“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing. I wish I could go back in time, to teach my kids and grandkids what life is really all about,” she said.

When her mom lost her eyesight, Roles dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and she and her siblings helped take care of her and the house. The kids pulled together for those Thanksgivings, the older girls getting jobs to pay for the food, and made the meals.

“Mom was a wonderful person,” she said. She kept ironing, and when Roles would look in, the iron would be at one end, and the shirt at the other. “But she just kept going and going.”

Her dad would bring home a treat for each of the kids every payday after work at Darling Valve. They stood hungrily by the door, waiting for the knob to turn, when he would hand them each a pack of nickel wafers.

“I still buy them,” Roles said.

For Sharon Galligher, quality, homemade food is essential to Thanksgiving dinner. When she grew up in Loyalsock Township, her parents, Mary and Wilson Galligher, would take her and her three siblings to Grandma Laura Strauss’s house for that special day.

Strauss would make her special stuffing – and Galligher is determined to teach her sister Nancy how to make good stuffing this year when Galligher hosts the holiday.

She chuckled as she recalled teaching Nancy how to make the turkey.

“You mean I gotta take its guts out?” her sister asked, to which she responded with a hearty, “Yes!”

To make the stuffing, she mixes Weis’ homemade bread, celery, onions, poultry seasoning and turkey broth, and stuffs it in the turkey. Perfection is the golden-brown skin of a perfectly cooked turkey.

Also – absolutely no lumps in the gravy. “My aunt would always tell me a good cook can make gravy with no lumps,” Galligher said.

Her sister Linda will make humbleberry, pumpkin and mincemeat pies. Their brother Lee, well, “He’s just there to eat!” Galligher exclaimed.

When Edna Shaner, 92, grew up in Hughesville, her parents Amanda and Edward Parker would make a veritable feast for their nine children, with wild turkey, pork roast or chicken from their farm. Homemade heaps of mashed potatoes, filling and gravy would sit near assortments of pies. Then they would play quiet games.

This year, her daughter, Carol Royce is hosting, and the four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren will make it feel just like home.