Thanksgiving then and now…

100_5259.jpgFor so many years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a very special one for the Andersons here in Illinois, and one which we looked forward to with great anticipation. On that day, we would welcome the arrival of my mom and my two sisters and their families—one from Ohio; one from Nebraska.

Our son and family, who live a short distance from us, and our daughter and husband from Michigan would be here as well. Then, there were the nieces and nephews who would trickle in at various times. Without a doubt, the air of excitement for our traditional Thanksgiving celebration hung all about on Wednesday as those we were thankful for began to come in.

Beginning early that day, final preparations for the “big day” would be in full swing, including my stuffing and cooking of the first of the two big twenty-pound birds on the Weber charcoal kettle. The second one would be done on Thursday morning. Wednesday’s turkey would be for the sandwiches and snacking for the next few days, while the second one would be for the big meal on Thursday.

Once turkey number one was on, I’d have to check the coals every forty minutes or so and add briquettes accordingly to keep the heat up to the appropriate level. This would go on for at least six hours, depending on the weather conditions. During that time, my son and  I would get the garage set up with the tables that would hold the many snacks and other goodies and leftovers for the next few days.

There was also the keg of beer to pick up from the store, and our son was usually in charge of taking care of that important chore. Since there were always many thirsty guests all those years, having plenty of beverages went without saying!

Josh making sure Old #7 (in background) is “safe.”

We couldn’t tap the keg, though, until Uncle Rich arrived from Omaha with “Old #7,” his cold plate beer tapping system he’d built. Imagine our annual “ritual” of tapping the keg soon after Uncle Rich’s arrival. Let Thanksgiving begin!

So many pleasant memories were made in our garage—year after year—before and after the traditional meal in our dining room and the “kids’ table” in the room just next to it. Carolyn always outdid herself, preparing way too much food, but it was delicious all the same. And, of course, my mom’s coffee cakes and pies were standard treats that only added to the goodness of the gathering.

The next two days: Football on the TVs. Kids scooting all about. Women off on shopping missions. Nibbling on leftovers. Cold beer. Nonsense and silliness. The same stories and jokes told before somehow coming to light and being re-told again. Laughter! 100_2023.jpg

And then it’s over.

By Saturday the out-of-town visitors had to pack it up and head back home. And though Carolyn and I were always ready to resume the routine of our lives at that point, there still was a sense of melancholy, knowing that what we’d so looked forward to had come and gone in a flash.

When everyone was younger, it always seemed as though there’d be no doubt that this Thanksgiving thing  would go on and on, year after year, and there would always be a Thanksgiving gathering at our place here in Illinois.

Sadly, We haven’t had that gathering here for the past couple of years, and this year is no different. The reasons why no one comes anymore are many, but the reality is that the youngsters are grown and have their own lives— with their own children—and family traditions to attend to.

Be that as it may, Carolyn and I will spend tomorrow having dinner with very good friends back in our old town of Naperville. We’ll kid and joke and try to avoid political disagreements. It will be fun and good and warm. Once back home that evening, I’ll probably imagine just one more trip to the garage for another snack or to refill my Solo Cup, and the memory will make me smile.

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be gathered!

“R and R” in the Smoky Mountains

Writing today from the mountains of western North Carolina at Carolyn’s brother’s place in Waynesville and am enjoying a day without driving, getting in-and-out of the car, and subsisting on McDonald’s coffee (large, one cream). With our wonderful time in Florida behind us, it’s time to prepare ourselves for the reality of the “northern” climate once more. Our time with Bob and Georgia in North Port was truly magnificent, and our across-the-state journey to Stuart to spend an overnight on Tuesday with Nick and Jane was a great way to wrap up our sunshine-filled vacation. The evening was highlighted by a delicious meal of jumbo sea scallops, prepared by Nick, and several bottles of Yuengling Lager. Such are the good things in life!

Bidding them adieu on Wednesday, Carolyn and I enjoyed a leisurely cruise up to Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach where we spent lots of time (and dollars!) before setting out on I-95 for a “mile-eating” remainder of the day. Our plan was to end up somewhere in South Carolina by 8:30 so the next day’s drive to her brother’s in North Carolina wouldn’t be too arduous. And so it was that we found a nice room at the Rice Planters Inn, just off I-95 near Walterboro, South Carolina, where we settled in for the night. It didn’t take long, either,  for the hum of the motel air conditioner to lull me to sleep.

When we’re in this part of the country, we always pay a visit to nearby Cherokee, which we did right away yesterday, and Carolyn was very disappointed in what she found (or didn’t find) this time. Of course, many of the shops are closed for the season, or those that were opened simply didn’t offer much in the kinds of things she was hoping to find. I’m sure we’ll try once again on our next trek through these parts, and I’m always prepared with a book to enjoy while she roams the various shops of Cherokee.

It’s always nice to spend time here at Carolyn’s brother’s place for a few days whenever we’re heading in either direction. Today is an “R and R” day–rest and recover–before we head back out on the big road and begin the last leg of our journey homeward on Monday. Aside from updating my blogs and doing some quiet reading (it is very quiet here!), we have nothing really planned. And that’s very much OK with me. I had expressed some interest in paying a visit to O. Henry’s grave over in Asheville, but I’ve reconsidered that idea, realizing that I saw a very nice photo of his grave stone on the Internet, and what more could I possibly glean from a physical visit to the cemetery, other than that I could say, “I was there.” Quite frankly, I have no desire to go anywhere near our car today. So O. Henry will have to remain resting in peace without my physical visit. Love your stories, Mr. William Sydney Porter, but I see no need to venture on over to your final resting place today!

Now, it’s time to post this and then check up on some other blogs I subscribe to. It’s rainy and mostly gray outside, so what better way to enjoy this day of “R and R”? …CortlandWriter