Twenty Thanksgivings ago I wrote my first article for a newspaper. I called it “Thanksgiving is a Holiday That Needs to Grow on You.” It was 1997. My wife, Joyce, and I lived in a little apartment with our baby girl in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland. I was reacquainted with the story while reading some old manuscripts I had written and thrown in a box. I made some edits, a lot of edits, and brought it up to 2016. Joyce and I now have 4 children – all girls. We live in a house not much bigger than that little apartment, but it has wooden floors and we made it into a home. Here’s what I wrote.
As a kid, I never really liked Thanksgiving that much. For one thing, it follows Halloween. A brisk, but sugar-kissed night, where we dress in costumes and run up and down streets collecting candy. Everything at Halloween comes in bright shiny packages. There are Jack-O-Lanterns and creepy-crawly things and orange and yellow leaves to play with. Thanksgiving’s nothing but meat and vegetables. Nobody passes out candy. And it comes a month before Christmas! When you’re a kid you want every day to be Christmas!
Women like Thanksgiving because it gives families a chance to sit down and share a meal together. Men like it because it involves food. Kids just want to get it over with already. “If I finish all my stuffing, will you take me to see Santa tomorrow?”
You can blame marketing for this. They make sure that Santa Claus is the highlight of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Research shows most kids are as interested in Thanksgiving as a vegetarian in a roomful of turkeys. It would take a miracle on 25th Street to get them to stop thinking about Christmas for one minute so they can understand what Thanksgiving is all about.
As I got older, and discovered that eating sweet potatoes won’t kill me, I began to see that maybe there’s more to Thanksgiving than meets the eye. Like Dad stealing a piece of pumpkin pie when Mom isn’t looking. Grandpa honing his carving knife to the beat of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Uncle Fred telling a dirty joke. Aunt Kai saying, “Don’t encourage him!”
Thanksgiving Day isn’t a day for sleeping in. When I was in college, I spent Thanksgiving mornings on a starting line with hundreds of other runners waiting for the gun to start us off on a 5-mile run called the Turkey Trot. A few years later I’m playing football on a muddy, frost-bitten field with friends, my hamstrings not reacting to the cold like they used to. The lure of a warm kitchen with holiday fixings makes us call it quits before any of us sees an end zone.
Joyce and I have been married for over 20 years. Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve been together that long. We’ve built quite a collection of memories together. Sunday morning runs by the canal watching Rosalie turn into a runner. Milk shakes downtown after picking up Keely from college. Cheering by the 50-yard line for our flag line captain, Audrey. Collecting Rembrandts from Michelina, the artist. Beautiful girls. They take after their mother.
I get older every day and come closer to history. That’s my way of saying I’m aware of my mortality. Will we ever get to see the rest of the world? Probably not. But look how much of the world comes to us. Slavic Village, Asian Town, Little Italy. The old churches that dot our neighborhoods and keep them from falling apart. Built by immigrants, brick by brick, steeples so high they beat Neil Armstrong to the moon. The parks that live and breathe under the shadow of Terminal Tower. Brought to life by workers during the Great Depression. The bridges that take us over the river and through the woods…to Grandmother’s house, we go.
I have a lot. Who needs Halloween?
Photo above: The writer as a young man in 1968, with Grandpa, eating soup, not quite sure what to think of this holiday yet.