Happy Thanksgiving!

“Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell

When I was growing up, we spent many a Thanksgiving and Christmas at Grandpa’s house. Thanksgiving was a much anticipated and happy time. We would often leave home on Wednesday afternoon after dad got home from work. It was a long 7 hour drive to Grandpa’s house in those pre-interstate highway days, so it would be really late by the time we arrived.

My cousin Sue (left), her family, and me (right) on grandpa’s old sofa bed. April 2011. When my cousins and I were all small, our parents would put four or five of us crosswise on this sofa bed for the night.

We all stayed at grandpa’s house, so aunts, uncles, and cousins were stashed in every bedroom upstairs and down, plus on couches, hide-a-beds, and any other place there was room to throw down some blankets and pillows. When I was quite small, they put my brother and I and some of our cousins all in one hide-a-bed in the basement or on a sofa bed upstairs (see the photo). We were stacked in like cord wood.

My family, 1953. I am standing in front of my mother. My dad is holding my brother. One of my cousins is on grandpa’s porch at the left.

My family, 1953. I am standing in front of my mother. My dad is holding my younger brother. One of my cousins is on grandpa’s porch at the left.

The next day, my brother and I would play with our cousins while the adults worked on Thanksgiving dinner (and/or watched a football game). Dinner was quite a production with a lot of people involved. There was grandpa, his six children and their spouses, plus all of their children, 25 people in all. That was a lot of people to fit around the big table with all the extra leaves, plus card tables set up for the younger kids. We had all the usual fixins, plus whatever grandpa provided if he had been hunting and was successful. When we hit our teens, my cousins and I could go along with him. Grace was said or sung or both. Singing grace was a family tradition. I still remember the tune. Our version went something like this:

Be with us at our table Lord.
Be here and everywhere adored.
These mercies bless and grant that we
May feast in fellowship with thee.

Good food was shared. I can still remember finding an occasional piece of shot (from grandpa’s shot gun shells) while eating duck or pheasant or whatever else grandpa’s hunting had provided for the feast. Much happy talk would go on around the table. Past memories and recent events would all be shared. Not all the memories were happy. Grandma died of cancer between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was 7 years old. I remember her, but not as well as I wish I could.

Grandpa, Grandma, and their six children.

Grandpa, Grandma, and their six children. My mother is at the upper left.

There was lots of room to play, both inside and out. The basement coal room was a place of mystery since none of us cousins had a house with a coal room. When I was small, one Uncle Ken (Sue’s dad) became the family horse. We took turns riding him around the living room. In addition to a big house (at least it felt big at the time), there was a big yard with an arbor, the old car (Model T or A) that sat in the side yard, a separate garage with a big depression in the floor so you could work under the car, and the playhouse in the back of the yard. Outside, we were pirates or explorers or whatever else struck our imaginations. My cousins and I made mud pies in the playhouse which we actually tasted.

The pantry behind the kitchen always had a box of chocolate chips that my cousins and I would secretly get into throughout the day. Chocolate chips worked well to fortify us for the day’s adventures. We were very careful not to get caught. It wasn’t until grandpa’s funeral that my cousins and I learned that our parents were snitching chocolate chips too. Grandpa let one of my aunts in on his little secret. He would buy several boxes, and hide all but one or two. When one box got low, he would put out another one.

It was a real joy to be together. After a two or three fun-filled days, we would all head home.

Families were much bigger then, and didn’t live so far apart. It was a different time.

I still look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes all of our children are home and sometimes just one or two, or we travel to them. This year, we are all together. We do the traditional dinner with turkey and all the trimmings. I’m particularly fond of cranberry in various forms. We pick up two or three flavors of sparkling juice and almost always have at least two kinds of pie. We talk and laugh and share memories both happy and sad. New memories are added to the older ones. I’ve gone from being one of the grandchildren to being a grandfather. How did that happen?

Family portrait, December 21, 2016, the last time we were all together.

May this Thanksgiving bring you joy, good memories, and happy times with family and friends. God bless you.

My thanks to the family of Norman Rockwell for permission to use “Freedom from Want”.