The memories of Thanksgiving are among the most precious memories I have.
As a youngster, I grew up in the house of my grandparents. Every year on Thanksgiving all my mom’s siblings would gather at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, with all my cousins in attendance. My dad would just mutter to himself and pronounce to any who would listen that “someone had better count the silverware.” I laugh about it now, but we had a few “funny” uncles and things would always come up missing after they left the house.
But with that one little caveat, they were grand times. My grandmother (who was 100 percent Polish) would start cooking the day before, and the smells were awesome. Her name was Mary Kronberg, and she was one heck of a cook. That woman could make cow dung taste good. OK, maybe not cow dung.
My grandpa, who was 100 percent German, had a hearty appetite and would do anything he could to make his wife happy in the kitchen. My mother learned to cook with all the gusto my grandmother could throw at her, so Thanksgiving feasting was something to look forward to months in advance.
On Thanksgiving morning, Mom always turned on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV as the cooking went on in the kitchen. Woe to the man or child who dared venture into that hallowed space on Turkey Day. No sir, trying to sneak a taste of stuffing, turkey or pie would lead to serious consequences. You entered the kitchen at your own peril. The smells emanating from that room, however, were overpowering and all afternoon long you would hear grandma or my mom yelling at some offender and shooing them out of the kitchen.
However, grandma always had a soft spot for me. She would peer around the kitchen wall and look at me with a gleam in her eye and say, “Oh, my boy, come in here and taste the stuffing to see if it’s ready.”
I never needed a second invitation. It was the best darn stuffing east of the Mississippi, and I always told grandma it would take a taste or two before I could let her know if it was done. The more tastes I took the bigger her smile. Yes, Grandma was a special lady, and I will give thanks tomorrow for having known this gentle soul.
As the morning wore on, my mom would start quizzing my dad. “Well Henry, when are you going to start this year?”
The question wasn’t about Thanksgiving—it was about Christmas. My dad liked to pretend that he was a mean ‘ol Grinch. He would go about spewing “Bah Humbug” every time he saw a Christmas commercial before Thanksgiving. But every year on Thanksgiving Day, the ‘ol Grinch Dad would climb in the attic and pull out the Christmas tree, the lights, the garland, and all the other Christmas paraphernalia. My sisters and I would eagerly help, and while the women cooked in the kitchen, Dad and his minions put the tree up. As soon as the tree was up, the Christmas albums came out. Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Al Martino, Gene Autry—they all got their rotation on the record player which was part of the TV console.
Then the relatives would arrive. There were lots of hugs and kisses and smiles all around. It was the one time of year when everyone was happy with each other in Mom’s family, and as a child, I just loved it. My cousin Marie, who was five years older than me, would corner me and we would have great conversations. We called them “Deep Talks” because they were about just about everything serious going on in the Sixties: Vietnam, Integration, the assassinations, the space race. Her younger brother Jerry, who was three years older than me, would bring out the Monopoly board and we would play in the corner until it was time to eat. While we were playing, everyone was watching the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day game. It is a part of Michigan tradition.
But before we would all sit down to dinner, my grandma—who was a devout Catholic—would bring out blessed hosts from the Catholic Church. This was a very solemn time at her house, and she would break the blessed hosts apart and give everyone a large piece. After everyone had received their allocation, we would go around the room and share a piece with almost every one of our relatives. We would break a piece off, hug the relative, and then tell them how much we loved them and how much they meant to us.
At the time, I enjoyed those moments. My aunts and uncles and cousins always made me feel special, and I miss all of them dearly at this time of year. Now that I am older, I treasure those memories and times even more.
Now I know most of you have your own traditions and memories, and I hope tomorrow you get to relive and enjoy them to the fullest.
From my house to yours, I want to wish each and every one of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.