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Coming Home: Traveling with Grandma’s Turkey Platter Tests Mom’s Mettle

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The author’s Grandma’s prized turkey platter as it looks today. Photo by Carla Occaso.

Mom and I returned home one Thanksgiving after a hard but heartwarming journey to retrieve Grandma’s long-lost porcelain turkey platter. 

Happy Times

Mom had told me how Grandma scrimped and saved to buy the platter in 1958 from the department store where she worked. Anticipation built as Grandma regularly updated the family about the pennies she’d saved, describing the dish’s gilded edges and colorful harvest scene.

Finally, the day came when Grandma proudly presented her prize. Although Grandpa called it frivolous, Grandma insisted the elegant platter brought class and festivity to their table.

That platter held many large Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas roasts over the years. It came to symbolize Grandma’s spirit, independence, and good taste. But when she died in 1985, Grandpa put the special platter in a closet — where it remained even after his second marriage.

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Mom asked for the platter several times, but Grandpa always hesitated, as if he couldn’t bring himself to let go of its memories. After Grandpa died one early November day, Mom was determined to get the platter. She and I traveled to his home in Washington, D.C., where we collected the platter along with a few of his books — her only tangible memories of her parents. We’d let go of everything else.

So then, we waited anxiously at the airport, still grieving, and wondering if she would be permitted to take the fragile heirloom aboard. Getting it home safely became our single-minded mission. 

Emotional Baggage

An unsympathetic check-in attendant told Mom the platter was too wide. It would be taken from her at the gate and stored in the baggage hold. But when Mom started to ask if she could pack it in her luggage, I nudged her along.

“You might as well break it now,” I said, urging her to take our chances at the gate. Mom agreed, then suggested we get a rolling cart for the massive platter. But I scoffed, carrying it carefully to the security checkpoint. Mom hovered as I placed it in a plastic bin to be X-rayed.

“Be careful. That’s my mother’s antique turkey platter and it’s fragile!” she hissed at the young security guard. Then her new metal knees set off the metal detector alarm. But even after the guards escorted her to a chair for a body search, Mom kept close watch through the glass partition as I gathered her coat, purse, and the platter. Once cleared, she and I headed for the concourse, its shops, and a three-hour wait to board. As we browsed and walked the full length of the Dulles concourse, the platter grew heavier and heavier. Why hadn’t I agreed to take the cart?

Take – or – Break Time

Finally, our flight was announced — our moment of truth. Mom hobbled to the gate, platter under one arm and her cane in the other. 

“Can I take this on the plane?” she asked. “It is my mother’s antique turkey platter. It should fit in the overhead compartment.”

The distracted worker nodded. Once aboard, though, we found it didn’t quite fit. Shoving it under the seat ahead of us, we covered it with shopping bags. The flight attendant soon insisted we put everything overhead.

“But this is my mother’s antique turkey platter,” Mom protested. “It’s priceless.”

“Well, you have to put some stuff overhead in case someone needs to get out in a hurry,” the attendant said, briskly stowing Mom’s cane and some shopping bags instead.

The plane took off at last. We looked at each other — phew!

That night, the heirloom was safe in Mom’s kitchen, thanks to her steel will. At Thanksgiving dinner it held a handsome home-cooked turkey — for the first time in years — right along with cherished memories of celebrations past. Maybe that’s what made that year’s turkey the best I ever tasted.