Thanksgiving Memories


Thanksgiving Memories 1


“Simple Gifts”


Thanksgiving Memories 2There are two Thanksgivings that I especially remember, and I think the first was father to the second because both of them revolved around the same concept, that family was important enough to spend time with. Old as I am, I really cannot remember a Thanksgiving that did not have football games of some sort. Failing that, there surely would have been the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and if I take this back to the Fifties—which I will—that sort of thing would have been wonderful fare, simply for the fact that we could live in Montana and see live events from New York City.  In those days that was a miracle, not the Same Old Same Old it is now. Bear in mind, now, that I’m old enough to remember lying in front of the Philco and listening to radio shows. TV was a later invention, not something “we’ve always had.” But in any case, TV is not at all what I remember about that earlier Thanksgiving.


It was, as I said, in the 1950s when we still lived in Helena, Montana. It feels bizarre to remember it this way, having lived in Southern California for so many years, but the truth of the matter is that we almost always had snow by Thanksgiving, as we did that year. One of my mother’s sisters lived at the other end of town, and this particular year the two families got together at our house. There was a huge turkey and as large a chicken as we could find. I don’t remember who provided which, but I still remember that at the end of the meal exactly one half of the entire turkey was gone. It was almost surgically sliced from top to bottom. The chicken was gone completely, apart from a few denuded bones still lying on its platter.


But what I most remember about that Thanksgiving Day was that we had made a day of it. Our in-laws did not arrive twenty minutes before serving time. They got there early, so my aunt could help my mother in the kitchen and the two families could spend time together. One of the big attractions in those simple days before video games, cell phones, and that infantile, incessant, insipid texting was a bowl of mixed nuts with the shells still on them. We talked and laughed and carried on, as families were wont to do in those days, as the nut cracker and nut picker made their way around the coffee table where we were all gathered.


It was a simple enjoyment, all we could really afford in those days. My aunt and uncle were blessed with more income than my parents, but neither family could have been considered rich, at least not in material things.


The second Thanksgiving I especially remember occurred some thirty years later, during the 1980s. By then we lived in Southern California, but my aunt and uncle were still in Montana. I was married then, and the other children who went to the folks that year were also adults and married. In those early years—and in often snowbound Montana—people really did not travel a lot on Thanksgiving, which surely gave rise to the concept of making a day of it. Later, of course, so much of that, along with civility, manners, and common decency went by the wayside, but in the eighties we were still without cell phones, although the NFL had now come to Thanksgiving. Stores were still closed, though, and families still got together, as did ours.


It was a bit of culture shock for Christine when we first got together, because her family has always served the Thanksgiving meal at 6:00 or so, whereas our family has always served at 2:00, but there was a method to that madness, as she learned this particular Thanksgiving. The football games were available, as always, but the TV remained dark, people opting instead, if memory serves, for pretty much the same carved wooden bowl we’d used so many years earlier, filled with unshelled nuts. And again the nut cracking implements made their circuit around the family circle.


By then Christine and I had long since begun our tradition of baking two pumpkin pies from scratch for each mother, a tradition we continued for over 30 years, never missing until the inevitable. My mother left this Vale of Tears in 2001, hers just three years ago, and we’ve not had the heart to bake a pie since. But to continue with this, we showed up with more than the two pies that year. I was once the company baker while I was in the Army, and I still remembered the drill, so I’d made two loaves of homemade bread.


The meal itself was a leisurely affair, as no one was in any particular hurry. Eventually, the table was cleared and the dishes washed, but no one left. My parents had a little house in Lakewood, California, which had, as its largest room, an attached family room the Old Man had built himself. It was an absolutely delightful room that they were able to make up into pretty much any configuration that pleased them. By then the last kid was gone, so they really did not need so much space on a daily basis. Most of the year there were several round tables and chairs, which they used as they were needed. For big doings, though, the Old Man had made some table tops which he used to link the tables together. For a gathering as big as the one that year, he could make a long L-Shaped table that made its way through the Family Room.


Thanksgiving Memories 4After the main meal there were after dinner liqueurs and coffee and conversation. In groups that large, it was not at all uncommon for there to be several conversations going at once, but there were also times when there was but a single conversation because someone was recounting a funny story or zinging one of the family members, and no one wanted to miss that!


Along about seven o’clock Christine learned why we liked doing it early and making a day of it because by then the meal that everyone declared had stuffed them beyond repair had been digested, leaving, believe it or not, the munchies. Some just wanted a slice of that pie they’d passed on at the end of the main meal, but older hands at this made a beeline for that homemade bread. Two slices of that bread, some cold turkey and mayonnaise in between, a bit of cranberry sauce, a slice of pie, and a cold beer. It really does not get any better than that.


But the main thing, and what made both Thanksgivings so special—in fact all of the Thanksgivings I’ve experienced over the years—was just the simple gift of spending time with those we love. I’m not sure we always treasure those moments as much as we should. Looking back on those long ago Thanksgivings now it’s sad indeed to realize that so many of those people are gone now: my aunt, my uncle, my parents, her mother, and two of my siblings. Personally, I have enjoyed entirely too many blessings in life to ever become blasé about it, but I will say that on Thanksgiving I tend to reflect on that just a little bit more than usual.



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