Thanks (Giving) for the Memories

On November 22, 1963, I was working in the darkroom making prints of some target or another for my employer, the United States Air Force. It was a nice day in Riverside, California. The sky was bright, and the temperature cool. Soon, it would be a lot darker. An airman ran into the darkroom and yelled out that President Kennedy had been shot. We all went out into the main room and listened to the radio.

This happened six days before Thanksgiving Day. It was a sad week. We were on alert and had no idea if there was an attack coming. The TV was playing mournful music and going over the story all day long. By Thanksgiving Day, I was feeling pretty low. Besides the death of Kennedy, it was my second Thanksgiving away from home.

It’s little things that can bring you joy, like memories that skip through your brain, leaving traces of fairy dust, and it happened to me. As we were confined to the base, we couldn’t go into town, and as I said, the TV was awash with sadness. We were left to our thoughts, and as it turned out, that was a good thing. I started to remember past Thanksgiving holidays. The fairy dust was working.

I remembered the first time I was aware of Thanksgiving or, at least, the first that I could remember. The whole family, cousins, aunts, and uncles would show up at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. My Uncle Al had six kids at the time, and my Uncle Bud had two children. There were three of us, and by the time everyone got there, it was very crowded. There were 19 people in a 1,000 square foot, two-story row home on Lippincott Street in North Philly. It was okay if you could “hold your water,” as the older people said, because there was only one bathroom.

The small kitchen table and the dining room table were full. There was always a big turkey, filling, mash potatoes, cranberry sauce, and at least three kinds of pies. Generally, there was pumpkin, mincemeat, and apple pie.

As with all families, things changed. When my grandparents came to live with us (one of my youth’s highlights), the full family Thanksgiving feasts stopped. Instead, my grandparents, parents, sister, brother, and I would crowd around our small kitchen table because we had no dining room. We would spend the morning watching Gimbel’s parade and enjoying the smell of the turkey roasting in the oven. A few times, we went to the actual parade.

My father was always first at the table. It was his habit to sit down at least 5 to 10 minutes before the meal was ready. He never said anything, but I believe it was his way of saying, “Hurry up; I’m starved.” On my mother’s part, it was always a time for a little bickering until the food was served. It was the same meal every Thanksgiving and one of only two times a year that we would eat Turkey. It was always delicious, and we always overate.

Here we are 57 years later from that faithful November day in 1963. This year (2020), we probably won’t have a proper Thanksgiving Day celebration because of the coronavirus. I should be thankful that no one in my family has succumbed to that god-awful virus during this pandemic, and I am. Many of our fellow Americans did not. I pray for them and their families.

I know the pain of loss, and I wish I could have my grandparents, parents, and sister with me as I celebrate the holiday. In a way, they are with me because, although we may not celebrate together, I will continue the traditions in my memories. I may not have a big turkey and an assortment of pies, but it’s not the food or the trappings of Thanksgiving that are important. It’s your friends and family.

So, here’s wishing you beautiful friends and family memory-packed Thanksgiving.

 Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.


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