There are a couple of holidays a year that cause me to reminisce. One of them is Thanksgiving. Some people may have many memories of Thanksgiving from their childhood, I have one. From my earliest memory, I recall going to Marion, Ohio for Thanksgiving at my grandparents.
Even before there were that many grandchildren, the house on East Farming Street was filled with family waiting for dinner necessitating splitting up to get a place to sit. The living room would have those interested in football, watching whatever game was on. Often the kids would be in the dining room playing a board game until we were shooed away so the table could be set for dinner. The kitchen would have another group, usually sampling the goodies while discussing the happenings of the past year.
I remember the times when my family was able to go up the night before, I would get up early, really early, and find grandma already hard at work in the kitchen, making sure the turkey was properly prepared and in the oven in time to be ready for the hungry mouths that would congregate there in just a few hours.
Oddly, one of my memories of our trips to Marion include a journey into the basement with grandpa. It was an old basement full of all kinds of wonderful things that a kid would love to explore. As I remember, my annual visit often included a “gift” from that basement. Some years it would be an old toy that my uncle had played with when he was a kid growing up there. Other years it might be something that grandpa had made for one of his kids, having been many years since it was stowed away in this “treasure room.” Sometimes the gifts were even more sentimental like a stack of patches grandpa retrieved from discarded flight jackets after World War II ended, his uniform “leggings,” or his Army knapsack still showing the wartime notation on the bottom, “SGT John J. Finn, North Africa.” I didn’t hear many stories from grandpa about his time in the Army. Now that I’m older and have gone to war myself, I think I understand why.
The big Thanksgiving Dinner was always the highlight of the visit. Multiple tables would be strategically arranged in the dining room to make room for the family. As the group continued to grow, once we squeezed into our place in the back, getting out would require the shuffling of at least a half a dozen others so you wanted to be sure you used the restroom before being seated, because you could be stuck a while!
Dinner always included all of the usual Thanksgiving fare. The turkey, of course, with homemade stuffing (none of the Stove Top stuff!), mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry salad and sauce, and all of the rest. Dessert would bring more choices than could easily be decided, so you would have to try a little of each!
After dinner there were a variety of other activities that are still vivid in my memory. Strangely, though, I don’t remember the clean up, but I do remember retreating to the living room to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade eagerly waiting for the Jolly Old Elf’s appearance at the end of the parade, signalling the beginning of the Christmas season (obviously, this was many years ago. Now Santa is competing with Halloween for attention!).
Another tradition was the walk that the “men” would take after dinner. Often there would be the humorous (and after many years, expected) comment about being hungry and needing to get something to eat. Usually the walk included a stop at Pop Wylies, a gas station & convenience store a few blocks away. I remember a few times trying to talk dad into buying me something, anything. Though he’d always question how I could possibly be hungry after just eating such a big dinner. Sometimes though, my Uncle Don would step in and buy me a candy bar or bag of chips. Satisfaction!
I’m sure that we made other trips to Marion to see my grandparents but it’s the trips at Thanksgiving that I remember.
Not long after grandpa died, grandma moved down to Cincinnati, nearer to her daughter and family. Of course, now living in an apartment, she couldn’t host Thanksgiving anymore so Aunt Mary Ann began to host it with grandma there to see that everything went right. Those were good times: the gathering of family, a great meal, watching the game. But it wasn’t quite the same as Thanksgiving in Marion. Later when grandma passed away, Aunt Mary Ann hosted Thanksgiving a couple more years –and those were great times too– but distances to travel and busy schedules caused my participation to fade away.
Over the last several years since then, my immediate family has attempted to make Thanksgiving a significant holiday for us to get together. But with kids in Chicago, Akron and Mansfield Ohio and us in Missouri, that is nearly impossible. These days we sometimes have a smaller dinner with just the family who is still at home, or we enjoy Thanksgiving with other families, which are always great dinners and an enjoyable celebration of Thanksgiving; but nothing has measured up to my memory of Thanksgiving in Marion.
I’ve begun to think forward a bit and now wonder if sometime in the future, as my wife and I become grandparents, our home will be a place where our children and grandchildren will gather for Thanksgiving Dinner. I suspect that as we gather, I will tell them about my childhood memories of Thanksgiving at grandma and grandpa’s in Marion.
Maybe these new times of family gatherings at our home to give thanks will be the beginning of memories for my grandchildren. Maybe when they’re older, they will reminisce about their Thanksgivings at grandma and grandpa’s as a smile slowly forms on their faces.