The best Thanksgivings were the big Thanksgivings.
The ones where all eight kids would descend on Mom and Pop's basement with all the spouses, grandkids, an occasional in-law, a lonely neighbor and a cousin or two in tow. And, there was always a boyfriend or girlfriend meeting the family for the first time.
You knew it was a big occasion at Mom and Pop's house when everyone was directed to "just throw your coats on the bed." If you were the first to arrive, you had to be the last to leave because your coat was buried under a mountain that almost touched the ceiling.
When Mom declared "soup's on," Pop and a couple of the boys grabbed a sheet of plywood from along the basement wall and lifted it onto the pool table. A perfect fit, once the little kids rolled all the balls into the pockets. Their job was easy because the balls tended to roll to one side anyway.
It took three tablecloths to cover the pool table and all the chairs we could muster from all over the house to circle it. Mom and Pop sat at one end in the good living room chairs with the padded arms. They sat so low, sometimes you had trouble seeing Mom. But she didn't sit much anyway. She was busy running around making sure everyone's plate was full.
There were kitchen chairs, lawn chairs, stools, a piano bench (we didn't have a piano, just a bench), a little ladder and, when we really had a crowd, an old school desk or two.
If you got to sit in a school desk, you had your own table and the inkwell was a handy place to put your drink. If you didn't like cranberry sauce, you could slip it in the book slot underneath. I liked sitting in the school desk.
When Mom brought in the big bird, there were lots of oohs and aahs before Pop said, "I think we better pray for this food." We did. We thanked God that all of us could be together. Then we dug in.
The pool table one-liners never got old.
"Hey, we need some white meat down here in the corner pocket."
"Will somebody please bank the gravy off Uncle Eddie and over to this side."
"These biscuits, sure are good, Mom. Did you make them from scratch?" Scratch, get it? Ha. Ha. Ha.
Thanksgiving at the pool table was a true test for the boyfriends and girlfriends who weren't used to us yet. They got the brunt of the kidding. At first, they must have thought we were the Beverly Hillbillies for eating on the pool table. "Yee, doggies, pa," one of my brothers would say to embarrass the guy who brought his new girlfriend. "Will ya pass the 'possum gravy, perty please?"
No wonder we never saw some of those girlfriends and boyfriends again.
All the kids sat at a separate "kids" table in the kitchen. I sat there until I graduated from high school. When I finally earned my spot at the pool table, I found out that that's where most of the fun is.
Sooner or later, my brothers and I would get in trouble for rolling pool balls up and down the runs on the sides of the table.
"Leave those balls alone or I'll tan your hides," Pop said. He threatened to tan our hides lots of times when we were little but he never did. So we didn't think he would at Thanksgiving either. But we stopped rolling pool balls just the same.
Once, my brother put a potato in with the balls. Another time, there was a drumstick in the corner pocket. Pop didn't think it was too funny, but as far as I know he didn't tan anyone's hide.
The pool table held a lot of food. No matter how many people brought dishes, there was room for all of them. Passing things from one end to the other was the tricky part.
At some point, Pop got out the bridge -- that long stick with the gizmo on the end that let you rest your pool cue in its grooves to make those really long, awkward shots. He stood up, reached way down to the other end to snare the gravy boat with the bridge and scoot it past the mashed potatoes, around the turkey and between the sweet potatoes and the pumpkin pie to within arm's reach.
It was an impressive move and everybody got a kick out of it. When you're sitting at the head of the table, you don't have to worry about somebody tanning your hide.
At the end of the meal, we'd let the littlest kids break the turkey wishbone. But everybody around the pool table got to make a wish, too.
I wish we could have a pool table Thanksgiving again.