Gray day; bright Thanksgiving memories…

It’s that gray, rainy morning I’ve been waiting for here in northern Illinois! 

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with those bright and sunny days that have greeted us every morning, but one such as this is perfect to finally attend to all of the writing projects I’ve managed to procrastinate around for way too long. I’m really not sure why this sort of day has always prodded me to get the writing going—and sometimes finished—but I’m thinking it may be nothing more than a psychological “trigger” telling me that it doesn’t get any better than this, so sit down, fire up that computer, and quit putting things off!

Whatever any of this means, who really knows? I only know that I always seem to be in a better “writing” frame of mind when there’s an aura of dreariness about. Not to come off as a Poe type, but I do love days that are full of rain or snow or wind that provide an overall sense of grayness. That’s exactly how it is this morning, less than two weeks away from my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Understand, I don’t need the gray atmosphere to write about this holiday’s moments that shine brightly in my memory bank. And as the stiff wind swirls the rain all about and against the windows, my mind harkens back to my family’s many Thanksgivings at my grandparents so many years ago.

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving, and the days leading up to it, have always created within me a special feeling of joy and anticipation. Not anticipation for all of the delicious food we would enjoy, but the eagerness to be with cousins for the first time since the previous gathering. Those few days spent together provided us a time of fun and a hiatus from our everyday routines of school and life in general. 

Because we lived a few states away from the grandparents, we always had a pretty long drive to get there. Even then, I never balked at a road trip that would involve many miles of familiar places along the way. Most of the time, we left after dad was finished with work on Wednesday, and we’d arrive late that night. My cousins would usually be there ahead of us, so it was always a festive and raucous occasion when we were all finally under roof at my grandparents the night before Turkey Day.

Thanksgiving Day usually began pretty early, despite our lack of sleep after our late night. A quick breakfast, and then our day began! Epic backyard football battles that wore on for hours never failed to get our spirits up—as well as our appetites! I never fail to smile when I recall those wonderful long ago Thanksgiving  mornings.

Of course, after we’d cleaned up and changed clothes from the morning gridiron action, the afternoon featured the main attraction: A dinner which was nothing less than spectacular! 

After all, who could cook or bake any better than Grandma? Sure, she had lots of help from our moms, but it all was her deal! Turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, rolls that would melt in your mouth, squash, beans, etc., etc., and pies of pecan and pumpkin and mince meat were of what dreams were made. As my uncle always said afterwards: “If you came away hungry, it was your own fault!”

When the annual Thanksgiving repast had finished, there would be football on TV and an inevitable card game (usually Hearts) with Grandpa. Our dads always managed to find convenient out-of-the way chairs or couches on which to snooze, and our moms cleaned up the dishes and put the food in the fridge. Ah, the glorious leftovers! 

Then, they and Grandma would retreat to the dining room table that had quickly been transformed back to its normal state and chat about whatever moms and grandmas liked to talk about. Usually, as I recall, there was lots and lots of reminiscing and laughter of bygone people and places. I always learned a lot about my family from listening to some of this “table talk,” and even the repetition of some of the stories I’d heard many times through the years, were still fun to hear all over again. Somehow, it seemed a ritual that was just expected to happen.

And so, Thanksgiving afternoon wore on, and nightfall came early, as it always does in late November. The leftovers were pulled out, and the turkey sandwiches were the perfect capper of the annual Thanksgiving gathering. And even though we were tired, we never wanted to “give up the ghost” and call it quits.

But the day’s excitement and fun was all but over. I was always filled with a sort of melancholy at this point, knowing that we’d be up early the next morning and wending our way back to Indiana and back to that routine we’d blessedly been allowed to escape —if only for a few wonderful days. 

I could go on about other “moments” from other years surrounding this special holiday, but I’ll just say that as I’ve grown older and married and had my own children, through the years we’ve tried to invoke the same kind of Thanksgiving magic that we enjoyed so much as kids. Family gatherings at our own house were a staple for many, many Thanksgivings. And though I would have loved for everything to continue, it’s so true that “All good things must end.” A few years back, that’s exactly what happened. There is no blame to be dished out, other than the reality of kids growing up, leaving the nest, and starting families and their own traditions. Even so, as my own childhood memories of Thanksgivings at Grandma and Grandpa’s long ago were special, our own Thanksgiving memories are forever there!

I hope you have fond memories of bygone Thanksgivings, and may you make many more!

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!

Thanksgiving Leftovers…

file5241262572135Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, a time to take a step back from all of the busy minutes in my life and to give thanks for all that I have. I have usually been surrounded by family, who have travelled some distance to share in our once-a-year gathering. Laughter and smiles have been as plentiful as the food and other goodies that tempt beyond imagination!

Our hosting the Thanksgiving festivities began many, many years ago when all of our kids were young and before they were grown with kids of their own! The fun always began on Wednesday—Thanksgiving Eve—when my tradition of cooking one turkey on the Weber charcoal kettle began. It would be blasphemous for me to even think about using the oven to cook them! I come up short in many departments, but I must pat myself on the back that my holiday turkeys always are delicious and perfectly done “to a turn” (a kind relative’s words once).

IMG_2774Of course, I can’t let it go with just one turkey. I arise early on Thanksgiving morning and do the same thing all over again. Thus, two turkeys for our menu, allowing for plenty of delicious meat for the dinner and those crucial sandwiches later on for the next couple of days. Now that’s the beauty of the Thanksgiving feast, I think.

This Thanksgiving gathering is also the time when our garage becomes “Thanksgiving Central.” You know, the place where we can be found with the football and hockey on the TV up in the corner and the keg of beer chilling away down below, next to the the table laden with snacks and leftovers—not to mention pies and other tempting delicious desserts.

If the weather is cold (it usually is), our son has his propane heater that quickly heats things up and we don’t even need coats or jackets. On those few occasions when the weather has been unseasonably warm and pleasant, that’s an added bonus to add to our list of things for which we are thankful.

I can’t really remember exactly when this whole family ritual began, or why it seemed to catch on year after year. Like all traditions, it began once and we did it again the next year, and the next, and right on to the next, family and friends showing up and making it a very good time.

This year’s gathering was much smaller, many of the nephews not being able to make it because of their own “grown up” family traditions and responsibilities. And some day, we will no longer host the event, but with so many memories, we will always have much for which we are thankful!

Was your Thanksgiving a good one? What Thanksgiving traditions do you have?