Thanksgiving in Kensington
Kensington Neighborhood in Philadelphia -1944-1961
It’s odd how we remember the “old days” with reverence and fondness. The truth is never exactly how we remember it, and that’s a good thing. I spent my first 17 years on this earth celebrating Thanksgiving in our Wishart Street two-story row home, where I shared a bedroom with my brother. All of this occurred against the backdrop of several wars, polio epidemics, gang fights and the occasional incarceration of some neighbors, but I cannot remember one bad Thanksgiving.
I do remember funny and heartwarming family gatherings, where all of our cousins, aunts, and uncles laughing and enjoyed a feast. I remember the time a bar of soap accidentally fell into the mash potatoes my grandmother was making. We found that out the hard way. I remember drawing turkeys and pilgrims and hanging them in the classroom at William Cramp Elementary School. I remember my first 8-year-old “crush” Lois, who had no idea I existed. I remember the cold bite of the air as we played half ball or hung out on the corner with Billy Pullman, Georgie McIver, Phil and Bob Gormley, Harry Elliott, Pat Morris and others.
I remember walking down Mascher Street to Wishart and east a block to my house, with the snow swirling around my head. When it snowed my grandfather (Harry Hird) would alter his “pull my finger” joke and say “I hope this keeps up!”. We would all agree with glee, and then he would that say “because that way it won’t come down.” Okay yes, it is silly, but to a 7-year-old it was meaningful because we were hoping to get one more day added to our two days off we got for Thanksgiving. Snow was our friend. It allowed us to be free from the rigors of learning and provided us with a means to sled down Howard Street or McPherson Square Park.
No one who ever attended the Gimbals’ Thanksgiving Day parade ever could forget it. Before television became popular, our Dad would drive my brother Bill and me downtown to attend the parade. I remember the smell of Chestnuts roasting in pushcarts, Santa’s helpers (all dressed like Santa) collecting money, bright multicolored lights, and decorations and I especially remember the real Santa as he was the last to arrive in the parade. He would climb a large ladder, supplied by the Philadelphia Fire department, to his home for the next month on the 4th floor of the store. I never wondered how an old fat man could climb that high. After all, if he could climb down fake chimneys on homes all over the world a four-story climb up a ladder would be a piece of cake.
Speaking of cake, I vividly remember the smell of roasting turkey with stuffing, mince pie, pumpkin pie, and my mother’s favorite pineapple upside down cake. In later years her favorite became Apple cake. Little did I know that 1961 would be my last Thanksgiving Day celebration in Kensington for four years. In 1962 I spent my Thanksgiving at Lackland Airbase in San Antonio Texas in basic training. In 1963 I was in Riverside California and then Saigon for 1964 and 65.
Of all the memories I have, the most powerful are the memories of my family and friends. Those memories have lasted me a lifetime. They sustain me in troubled times. When I’m feeling sad, I simply travel back in time and relive the time with those who have now traveled beyond this world. In this way, we can all be time travelers. Each year I add to those memories as I continue the tradition here in Atlanta, with Duoc, Bill, Nancy, Ava and their friends.
I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving, and sincerely hope you have and will make more fond memories of your own.