A Thanksgiving to Remember

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Mary Doria Russell, author, Doc, The Sparrow

My family is late for everything. We all predicted that my mother would be late for her own funeral, and her remains really did arrive at the grave site 15 minutes after the rest of us got there.
Anyway, as a young bride, I bravely invited the whole family for Thanksgiving dinner at 2 PM. I assumed they'd arrive at 4, so there was no hurry to get the turkey into the oven... Naturally, they showed up at 2 on the dot, and that was when I discovered that you have to THAW THE TURKEY BEFORE YOU ROAST IT.

When it became obvious that the bird would be done sometime on the following Sunday, we took it out of the oven, sawed off the thawed bits on the outside and pan-fried them. Forty years and hundreds of elegant dinner parties since, I have yet to live the frozen turkey down.

Dan Coughlin, sportswriter and broadcaster, author Pass the Nuts and Crazy, with the Papers to Prove It

Tough for me to pick just one. Back in the 1950s, we got a bonus football game on television at 11 o'clock Thanksgiving morning -- the Packers and the Lions in Briggs Stadium, Detroit. That was big. At that time the only other pro football games we saw on television were the Browns' six away games.

In 1971 I covered the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game on a brilliantly sunny but cold Thanksgiving Day in Norman, Okla. Number one against number two. Johnny Rodgers for Nebraska against Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma. Nebraska won, 35-31, in the greatest game I had seen up to that point in my life. Thanksgiving dinner that night was meat loaf at an all-night beanery with half a dozen other sportswriters, mostly from Chicago.

But my all-time most memorable was the Thanksgiving weekend of 1950, the weekend of the famous surprise snowfall. I can't call it a blizzard, because there was no wind. About 8 o'clock on an unusually warm Friday night it began to snow. When it stopped on Saturday morning there were almost two feet of snow on the ground. Greater Cleveland was paralyzed. Somehow the Saturday morning Plain Dealer got to our front porch. I don't know how. Our cocker spaniel gave birth to four puppies that day and we couldn't get them to the vet to have their tails clipped for more than a week. Neighbors worked all day as a team to clear a single path down the middle of Blossom Park Avenue in Lakewood. The high school football Charity Game at the Stadium was postponed for two weeks. The National Guard used tanks to rescue stranded Boy Scouts who were camping that weekend in Geauga County. Best of all, school was closed for an entire week. I was in the seventh grade at St. Clement Grade School in Lakewood, a perfect age to enjoy a snow storm.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Memory
By John Stark Bellamy II, Cleveland’s master of disaster, author They Died Crawling, Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters and others

Alas, my favorite Thanksgiving memory is not replete with steaming victuals and a Dickensian cast of family beloved. No--it was the late 1960s, and my brother Christopher and I were nearly marooned on a college campus in the remote northeast. I shall not profane your ears with its name but suffice it to say that it was not Harvard and also that it was recently described by the actor Bill Macy, a fellow alumnus, as a school “where the inmates had taken over the asylum.” During most holidays staff and students vamoosed to their homes or the alluring fleshpots of New York and Boston, and thus that Thanksgiving found us abandoned to the distasteful plenty of a cold cafeteria buffet and no supplies of holiday cheer whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, our grim evening repast of bread and butter left us restless and morose and we soon embarked on a quest to get high by whatever means possible. Normally, this would have been child’s play, as our college more resembled Pinocchio’s “Pleasure Island” than the groves of Plato’s Academe. But hours of frantic search turned up neither liquid or solid abusable substances nor any suppliers of same. But desperate times inspire desperate measures and a painstaking search of pockets and furniture cushions turned up $1.19, most of it in pennies and exactly the price, including tax, of a fifth of 20% fortified wine. Unfortunately, the only source of this sacred fluid was a shabby package store, a mile away in good weather and an incalculable distance in the blizzardy snow which now raged outside. But Hell hath no thirst like two male adolescents, so oft we trudged into the frozen deep. The ensuing three hours were a harrowing scene out of one of Jack London’s grimmer tales, but Christopher and I, ice-encrusted and moaning, eventually found ourselves staggering along the 1000-yard trail which led through the woods to our warm dormitory room. And we were, in fact, within sight of its beckoning light when a startled fawn crashed through the snow in front of us—causing Christopher to drop our precious bottle. It fell to the ground and I will remember forever its shattering sound as it hit the rocks below and its blood-red contents began staining the pristine snow. And I would like to say that I learned much from this squalid episode, and I have: I could repeat it exactly.

John H. Tidyman, author, Cleveland Cops and Give Me Rewrite, Sweetheart

Thanksgiving? I have to tell you, the first 60 weren’t memorable. I’m sure the traditional dinners were good — seven kids, two parents, and my wonderful Granny, the widow whose pie crusts were made with lard. The best.

As soon as they were of legal age, brothers and sister blew town. Some to college, others to the military. Thanksgiving dwindled. No great loss.

But last year, we had a Thanksgiving that was wonderful. Everything Thanksgiving is supposed to be: A time to reflect and give thanks, a gathering of loud, smiling, laughing family members, and a long table filled with excellent food.

It was at my oldest brother’s place, the Ohio Veterans Home, in Sandusky. Robert was his usual gracious self, welcoming Kathy, from Washington, D.C.; Paul, from Vermont; Jim, from Florida; Richard, from North Carolina; me and David from Lakewood. Assorted wives, nephews and nieces filled in the blanks.

I doubt I was the only one who wondered if this Thanksgiving would be the last where all seven Tidyman children, orphans all, would gather. If it was, it was a pretty good one.

Thanksgiving Memory: A Side of Sweet Sameness
By Laura Taxel, author, Cleveland Ethnic Eats

When it comes to holiday foods, Don’t Mess With Tradition. I learned this the hard way, the first- and only-year I decided to make cranberry relish from scratch.

Cooking was just becoming more than a daily chore. I was interested in kicking up my food to a more complicated and creative level. So I decided to do away with canned cranberry sauce and prepare an alternative. I bought fresh berries, simmering them until the skins burst. I zested orange rind and squeezed fresh juice. I stirred in sugar and spice. I chilled.

All this effort left me feeling virtuous and accomplished, proud to be serving this homemade condiment. Much to my surprise- and to put it mildly- nobody- not my husband or any one of our three sons- appreciated the effort. They sulked because our Thanksgiving table had, until then, always included the canned jelly, sliced into jiggling garnet rounds and layered on a platter. It turned out they not only liked it, they looked forward to its dependable, once a year appearance. They didn’t want anything new or interesting. So they boycotted my relish. They wouldn’t even put the stuff on a turkey sandwich. It was still sitting in the refrigerator when all the other leftovers were long gone.

It took awhile before I sorted out that something more than food preference was at play. In banishing an iconic element from the meal, I had unknowingly damaged a treasured sense of continuity, a reliable sameness that links past to present. Holidays are defined by rituals and I had disrupted the prescribed order and form we’d established for ourselves.

Since then the store bought side dish has unfailingly showed up along with the bird, still bearing the ridges of the can it came in. The familiar cranberry taste and gelatinous texture has the household seal of approval. But that’s not what really matters, More important are the messages it carries about family and memory, home and love that provide an essential and enduring sweetness to our yearly feast.

Les Roberts, author, The Strange Death of Father Candy and the Milan Jacovich mystery series

Like almost every American who isn't a vegan, I love Thanksgiving. Family, good food, the lousy Detroit Lions team playing football. What's not to like?

I, however, have a few bad memories I'd like to share. First of all----the drumstick! When I was a kid, my mother always made a big deal about my getting the drumstick. She'd absolutely glow when she'd plunk it onto my plate, and when she spoke about it, it was much like presenting a peasant with a gigantic diamond. I never really thought it was all that special, but mothers do that to kids---make them feel as if THEY are the ones gettikng something special. It was kind of like for three months before Christmas I would hint---oh, let's be truthful, I BEGGED---for a camera. Now, I was about eight, and this was a long time ago, so I didn't expect much more than a Kodak Brownie, but BOY! did I want that camera. On Christmas morning I got---a ukulele! My mother acted as if it were a Stradivarius violin, but I knew what it was---and I never played the damn thing, ever! It was much the same with the "presentation" of the drumstick on Thanksgiving---and I didn't realize until I was thirty-eight years old that I didn't even LIKE dark turkey meat!

The other Thanskgiving problem was my having to "sit at the children's table." Why? I wondered. I didn't slobber, I didn't eat like a pig, and on the other 364 days a year I supped with my parents at the same table. (Yes, that was in the old days when entire families sat down and ate together---probably no one remembers that anymore.) What turned it into pure hell for me was that I WAS AN ONLY CHILD! No, I wasn't banished away to eat alone---I was forced to share the table with my geeky cousins, and for several years with my aunt's two stepsons, courtesy of her short-term husband. The last time I had to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them, I was sixteen years old and had (what was considered then) a pretty hot DATE afterwards. Even better than the making out was the fact that I was able to get up and LEAVE the house, and leave those boorish little kiddies at the table.

Things eventually turned out well, though. Now I look forward to Thanksgiving---and a nice juicy steak and baked potato that await me. And the only time I had to share a table with children again was when they were my OWN children, and now grandchildren. And I've NEVER offered them a drumstick, either!

Evalyn Gates, executive director, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

When I was growing up my family always spent Thanksgiving at my Grandmother’s house in central Pennsylvania, where all of my aunts, uncles and cousins would gather for the long weekend. Several tables would be brought into the dining room to create one enormous table that could seat all of us – at least 28 and usually more, spanning 5 generations. It was a very traditional Thanksgiving, with too much of the most wonderful food (including whoopie pies, a favorite of mine long before they became popular!), a football game in the backyard, and the freedom to explore the rambling old house and orchard with my favorite cousins. Best of all was the original general store that was attached to the house. My grandmother owned the store and we were always allowed to choose whatever we wanted from the antique penny candy case.

Regina Brett, columnist, The Plain Dealer

Ten years ago, I invited a friend to share Thanksgiving dinner with us. Sharon was pregnant, and not married...in the same situation I had been in at 21. The morning of Thanksgiving, she called and asked if she could bring her brother.

My parents always taught us to make room for more at the table. We had 11 children, but my parents always welcomed anyone who needed a home for the holidays. One year, I brought a co-worker whose family lived in India. One year, my brother brought a college friend from Costa Rica. One year, my sister invited a friend whose family didn't celebrate holidays. So of course I said yes to Sharon.

On Thanksgiving Day, I opened the door to Sharon and met her brother, James, a handsome Irishman with stunning blue eyes.

Three years later, my daughter married him.

This year we'll welcome another person to the table. My new grand baby, who has the same blue eyes as her daddy and big brother, will sit near her aunt and cousin, and we'll all give thanks for that Thanksgiving Day.

Ghost-written for Mr. Dinkle by Tom Batiuk, creator of Funky Winkerbean

My name is Harry L. Dinkle, The World's Greatest Band Director, (I've actually had my name legally changed to that) and I'm the former band director of the Westview High School Marching Scapegoat Band. My favorite Thanksgiving memory was when my band marched in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. We had started selling band turkeys in July to pay for the trip. A few of the checks we received bounced, but, by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around, so did some of the Turkeys. At that time, we were getting our turkeys from Sam 'N Ella's turkey farm which was located near Three Mile Island. It was the reason why many of our turkeys had three drumsticks, but I always figured that it gave us a leg up on the competition.

When the big day finally arrived, we'd earned enough money to make the trip to New York City. We started out at four in the morning and let me tell you, until you've driven for nine straight hours with a bus full of kids singing A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall at the top of their lungs, you have no idea what it means to come completely unglued. Every Thanksgiving I still make it a point to visit some of the chaperones from that trip in the home. When the parade started we were behind the one hundred dancing palominos from Boulder Bend, Texas. Our next fundraiser following the parade was for new band shoes. But I still think of it fondly, especially when I see some of those band turkeys that are still sitting in my garage. Happy Thanksgiving!

Dick Feagler, host of WVIZ’s Feagler & Friends and retired Plain Dealer columnist

On Thanksgiving night in 1950 we were all at my Aunt Emma’s house. It’s now called Slavic Village, but then it was just the old neighborhood. It was our annual thanksgiving gathering … presided over by my Uncle Billy who was the celebrity of the family. He was a chef in the old Otto Moser’s restaurant on East 4th Street. When my mother and I went downtown we could see him slicing ham through the window. As a true artist will, he ignored us, except for perhaps the mildest nod. On Thanksgiving night his specialty was roast goose. Nobody else I knew had roast goose, and it was a special treat to taste some.

By about 9 oclock my aunt Dorothy and Uncle Ziggy left the party to visit some of Ziggy relatives. He came back in with snow on his hair. “You know,” he said “it’s really starting to snow out there. Maybe you guys ought to think about leaving early.” Now this was before the age of television weathermen. Nobody had a television set. These days if a dusting of snow hits the sidewalk, TV news leads with it, spends 10 minutes talking about it, then comes back to spend another 10 minutes talking about it, even if the snow has melted in the meantime. But our forecaster that night was Uncle Ziggy, who said we ought to go home early. And we did.

We made it home across town as I huddled in the back seat. I always loved those dark holiday nights in Cleveland. We would pass old homes, tenement houses whose families lived above their stores … but there was always some wistful light in the window that somehow touched me. No matter where you live or how, you can celebrate a holiday. We got home and went to bed. And when we woke up the next morning, and I looked out my window, the entire landscape had changed.

As far as we could see was one vast white sheet of snow. The streets and the sidewalks were evenly spread with the stuff. In the streets there were no tire tracks, on the sidewalk there were no footprints. It was just one blanket. And it was still snowing. Some of our neighbors found the snow was so deep they couldn’t open their doors. So they had to drop out of the second floor into the drifts. That was a time when most people went back to work the day after Thanksgiving, but that Friday nothing moved. The winds were blowing about 40 miles an hour. And by late Saturday the snow depth reached 20 inches, and it never stopped.

It continued through Sunday, and by Monday morning some depths reached 33 inches. By Saturday night we realized there was not going to be a snowplow coming down our street. So the men in the neighborhood got their snow shovels and began to dig us out. There were no snow blowers back then. But when they dug their way to up to Lee Road, our main thoroughfare, they hit a barrier of snow. Nothing was coming in and nothing was going out.

We had enlarged our snow island but it did us little good. In those days most people took milk from a milkman who drove up to the side door to deliver the milk. But the milkmen were not moving, nor was anything . Everybody began to worry about the two things that seem vital in a time like this … milk and bread. By Monday we were pulled on sleds by our parents up to the closest grocery store. In our case that was PicknPay. A skeleton staff of workers tried to accommodate us.

Then finally the snow stopped. It didn’t melt, it just stopped. And gradually the city got back to normal. Finally the city shook off hibernation and began to function again. Our parents went back to work and finally we went back to school, escaping the entrapment that the weather had given us. By May of that year, if you walked past a gas station, you could still see piles of snow … no longer fleecy, but rotten and brown. Forming foothills around the gas pumps. And then it was gone too, and it was like nothing had ever happened. But anybody who lived through it remembers that sudden storm.

And the reason I think of it as the great Thanksgiving storm is that it gave me one of the many things we ought to be thankful for.


Doris O’Donnell, author, Front Page Girl, retired Cleveland newspaper reporter

Thanksgiving Day 1960......

A re-run of special memories.....
From the day of our marriage, we were "owned" by Newfoundland dogs. They were "mine to groom," "his to romp with."

One late summer day, at the Geauga County Fair in Burton, Ohio, we watched in awe. Amish ladies in colonial gowns, were spinning -- of all things---DOG HAIR. I was hooked ---(no pun intended)---Bags of combed hair in our garage would be spun, and like the frugal Amish housewives , knit, knit into gorgeous sweaters.

Work and chores erased those thoughts until Thanksgiving 1960. A huge box from New Zealand held my dreams. My husband hunted up the spinners. Choices were a handcrafted Amish one or one from artisans. I saw ahead a life spinning miles of yarn, from the fleece of lambs to the the soft downy hair of Newfies

I found a teacher. We hummed "row, row, row your boat gently down the stream" giving me the rhythm in my feet to set the wheel spinning. Great. The hobby-career had begun. Since that Thanksgiving Day there has been woolly-doggie yarn for sweaters and sweaters, and socks and socks. I often spun away the day’s troubles. My husband gathered flowers and wild stems to dye the yarn into a rainbow of colors.

After that Thanksgiving holiday, I had to come up with "his" gift. It was a saw. He liked saws.

Wonder if the original Colonist liked our "walk" into the past.

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