In the vast sea of Thanksgivings that I’ve quietly waded through, there’s a small handful that stand out…for various and embarrassing reasons.
The First Thanksgiving I Remember: My dad was a writer. He’d invite both famous and infamous people out to the house with little notice and Mom had to handle ’em all. One Thanksgiving, Bob Crichton (famous writer) was invited out. I was a kid, by the way, not nasty, but easily bored. We lived in an old stone house built in 1828 and our dining room had a hugely long farm table. (Think of The Last Supper and you’re in the ballpark.) Only somewhere along the line, part of the foundation had settled to the point where there was definitely high ground and low ground at the table.
Bored utterly out of my mind listening to Dad drone on and on, I began rolling some of Mom’s antique glass-blown marbles down the table. What was cool was you didn’t even have to do anything, just let go and watch them accelerate. The first one hit the turkey platter: no big deal. I compensated the next round, and made it past the platter, where somebody caught it (and quietly removed it). Third round…past the platter, three place settings and off the end of the 12-foot table. Those old marbles were BIG and very noisy! but otherwise, no big deal. Droning went on…and on. At each place setting there was a candle, baked potato in foil, a paper napkin (for the kids) and well…food and plates. Mom had a jar of decorative matches in a crystal glass just to show off.
While Mr. Crichton was droning on about his book, I peered around, looking for something to do and suddenly it all congealed inside my brain. I took the napkin, rolled a strip into a snake and poured candle wax on it…ate my baked potato which released the tin foil. Then I stole ALL the matches in the crystal glass and broke the stems off. Bob Crichton kept yammering, with everyone else hanging on his every word. Finished my project, not really knowing what to do with it. But then…… Mom inadvertently assisted me by pulling the stuffing pouch out of the turkey. Voila! Super Voila!!!
When you’re a little kid, you are essentially invisible, which was a good thing right then. I got a little more turkey and installed my tin foil bomb where the stuffing had been. I draped the fuse across the silver serving dish, lit it and went back to my place. Nothing happened. The napkin fuse burned leisurely back to the cavern, disappeared inside and again nothing. A tiny puff of smoke drifted up from the turkey and then..ROOORSHH!!!! Massive smoke cloud, a bit of flame out the back, and the turkey shot off about six inches onto the table cloth. Cool or WHAT??? Ole Mr. Crichton thought it was funny as hell…thank God. The only downside, as I remember, was that the leftovers didn’t taste so hot afterwards. By the way, this wasn’t one of the bad Thanksgivings. This one was just a little weird.
Here’s a Pretty Bad One: It doesn’t take long to tell either. My wonderful Air Force recruiter managed to swing it so that I would be a bald, skinny, scared-shitless OT (officer trainee) not just for Thanksgiving, but for Christmas, too! Thanksgiving took under five minutes. Silence… You weren’t allowed to look left or right, just at the plate. The food…. Well…it was pretty awful. When you’re done, you march to the outside of the canteen and wait at attention till the rest of your flight is there. Yeah, that was pretty bad.
Our First Married Thanksgiving: Pretty Horrible, but it could have been worse. Pamela’s Hungarian parents decided to join us. When we were informed, we just looked at each other. I said, “huh???” Pamela said, “This is going to be hideous.”
Pamela’s mom was the neatest neat-freak I had ever encountered…ever. On one occasion I was determined she wouldn’t have something nasty to say about our kitchen sink. I scrubbed the stainless till it shined like silver. Re-scrubbed it twice and then, gave it a coat of expensive car wax and polished it with my electric buffer. It was wondrous! Better yet, when you turned on the water, it danced across the surface to the drain. Ella came out, turned on the water. Turned it off and started scrubbing it with Comet.
But…to the meal. Like the rest of the planet, Pamela slaved…two pumpkin pies, two pecan pies. everything from scratch, the best wine we could afford, hand-whipped potatoes. But by the time they pulled in the driveway, Pamela was a puddle of oozing misery. She knew it was going to be horrible. And so…loving husband that I am, I did the only thing I could think of to save her. I dragged her out on the back patio, where I then lit…a joint! (It was the early 70s.) She inhaled, then I did…once, twice, thrice and then with the tears still rolling down her face, she giggled. There was HOPE!
Yeah, Pam’s mom went true to form, didn’t like much of anything and was sure Emery, Pam’s dad (who looked, talked, and acted like Count Dracula) wouldn’t either. Well….he did. He really did, much to Ella’s extreme annoyance. There’s a time and a place for everything… Oh, and it’s possible that there were some extraneous fumes wafting around. After awhile, we all had seconds,thirds, fourths…there wasn’t much left at the end.
Another Kind of Christmas: Living out in the woods, we’ve had our share of grand-slam classic Christmases to remember. The best of those was Pam’s and my first one together, dating. We got hugely snowed-in, made snow angels, drank Pink Squirrels and played grab-ass all weekend. Just about perfect. But the best one? You won’t believe it.
Remember I said, I was messed-over by being at Officer Training? That Christmas down at Medina AFB, San Antonio, Texas, our entire flight got “gigged-in” (confined to barracks) for Christmas due to…I don’t even remember. Morale was horrible. I’d never spent a Christmas away from home, but this took the cake. And then, no word from Pamela who, up till then, had been the world-class queen of writing support letters and sending support cookies down to us. Just…nothing. Christmas Eve, we’re looking pale, bleak, miserable, punching the wall and then there’s a ruckus at the end of the hall. Surprise!!! The gigged-in had been baloney and……Pamela had flown down with my mom to spend Christmas with me! They brought a suitcase full of pine boughs, presents, a couple of Christmas balls, but most important, they brought themselves clear across the country! I started crying. Other buddies had the same surprise, wives, girl friends, parents. Just sitting in the OTS Club with Pamela and my mom was the best Christmas I’ve ever had.
P.S. Oh, wait a minute. There’s one more quickie. We’d just gotten back from a TDY (temporary duty) for Squadron Officers School…the day of Thanksgiving. On the TDY Pam and I bought a pup, a little dachshund, we named Charlie. Got back home, drove straight to the grocery, came back and Pam worked a miracle…and fast, don’t know how she did it. Thanksgiving was great, but then we decided to go for a walk. Came back, and couldn’t find Charlie…at all. He was gone. But then there was this muffled snurfling sound. We found Charlie…inside the turkey, munching away. Sigh…
Happy Thanksgiving to you both and loved your walk down memory lane!
Patti and Gary
Loved reading these.. LOL
Henry, I smiled all the way through this essay and loved the pictures. Especially the one of you and Pam (sigh – young love). I have read other pieces of yours that are available on the internet. The one that stays in my memory the most is the one on “First Borns”. I was reluctant to write a response as I am a first born and clearly understood what my younger sister experienced. She has managed to wait until our senior years to attempt to “get me back”…… and my reactions are always “well, where did that come from?” Enjoy your holiday and keep ‘em comin’ . Joee H.
For the past 20 Thanksgivings I’ve noticed that no matter who I talk to, everyone is cooking for at least 30 to 50 people on Thanksgiving. I believed it for a bunch of years, but started getting suspicious. How many people out there have 50 chairs, table settings, knives, forks, spoons, or…the inclination to cook for 50 people? I think something’s fishy…and it isn’t the turkey. From now on…. I’m cooking for 75…down from the 130 I had last year. Sheesh…
Henry…You Forgot One!
We were hanging around with a nice gay couple a few years ago and decided to invite them to join us for Thanksgiving. They accepted…but asked if they could bring one of their mothers along, too. Sure!
Something happened between the inviting and the showing up. I received parameters, which was something new for us. We learned that the Smirnoff vodka that we’d used for martinis didn’t really cut it. Grey Goose only… Also the mother didn’t like stuffing with any of the following: raisins, bread crumbs, apple and…well the list went on and on.
When they showed up, granny wasn’t in a very good mood, didn’t like the decor, the fire…don’t think she liked us very much. We hobbled through, with granny never failing to point out that she did things differently. She’d brought a pumpkin pie with her…just to make sure we’d have something for dessert. Somewhere in the midst of things, she’d mistaken salt for sugar in her recipe. It was pretty bad. Oh, and the Grey Goose we’d bought, well, as it turns out we’d cooled the vodka too much, or maybe not enough. I don’t remember. That was their first and last Thanksgiving with us. sigh…. Pamela