Thankful

Seventy-five years ago, our nation celebrated its last peacetime Thanksgiving before becoming involved in the war. Sixteen days later, Japan surprised almost everyone but my father with the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Pearl Harbor- Did Dad Know)

On that Thanksgiving Day in 1941, my mother was just twelve-years old, so her celebration was nothing like that of my father. She sat down with her family to eat a dinner prepared by her mother, while my father, then a twenty-two-year old soldier, was dining in a mess hall at Fort Dix. Dad’s family was on the other side of the world, and he had not been in contact with them for months. He did not even know if his family was dead or alive.

My Russian grandparents and three of their children were at a train station somewhere in the Soviet Union, which had been their home for over one week. What were they eating that Thanksgiving? Definitely not a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. If they were lucky that day, they feasted on some black bread, perhaps some flavorless soup, and a cup of water.

Since August, they had been walking on muddy roads and living in abandoned farmhouses while enduring months of unrelenting rainstorms followed by snow and temperatures plummeting to below zero. Their goal was to reach a train station where they hoped to board a train to take them further away from the constant bombings overhead and Hitler’s ground troops advancing closer to them each day.

So on this Thanksgiving Day in 2016, just for a moment, I will not be sad about not celebrating with my entire family. I will be happy that my mother is still around to enjoy her turkey dinner, albeit two hundred miles from me. My oldest daughter and her family will be eating a traditional New Orleans dinner, complete with some kind of seafood dressing—not stuffing. My middle daughter will be with some of her in-laws not far from my mother, and my husband and I will be celebrating the holiday this year with our youngest daughter at a barbecue restaurant just one mile from The White House. (Now that will be interesting!) They will all be happy, healthy, and safe, so that is where my focus will be.

And just for that one day, I will not think of what will come of our country on January 20.thanksgiving-2012

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Our Other Thanksgiving

Dad and I have been trying to figure out when we began to celebrate the other Thanksgiving and who initiated it. What we do recall is that it evolved from a conversation with a few of Dad’s friends  about how much we all enjoyed Thanksgiving, but since it is typically a family holiday, we would never be able to celebrate turkey day with our friends. But why couldn’t we just choose an earlier day in October or November and then gather with our friends and create a second Thanksgiving? Why not?

Thus began a new tradition.  Sometime between 1978 and 1980, we picked a date and a venue and doled out menu assignments. I believe the first celebration was at Steve and Donna’s apartment. You may not know, but Steve and Dad have been friends since third grade. That friendship has lasted as long as mine with Karen—55 years. That alone is cause for a celebration!

The original gathering was small. There were only six of us—Steve and Donna, Mickey and Ivonne, Dad and me. No children, just three old friends and their wives. I believe, though, that I was the odd person out since everyone but I grew up in Yonkers. But as you know, they are all great friends and I always felt like I was part of the gang rather than the new kid on the block.

We each contributed something from our own family traditions. I remember that the most unique dish was when Ivonne hosted dinner and we had a Cuban turkey, which much to Dad’s delight, meant a spiced turkey stuffed with peppers and onions.

Somewhere along the line, Dave married Barbara and they were added to this other Thanksgiving feast as were Billy and Robin. Each year, we alternated houses, and as the babies came, the number of seats at the table increased. I think, in the end, we had somewhere around twenty-ish.

When we moved to New Jersey, the dinners ended up at our house most of the time—over the river and through the woods to our house they came! Sadly, once we moved to the South, the dinners ended. As far as I know, no one continued the tradition. But for twenty-five years, we always had our special dinners.

We have kept in touch and have gotten together just a few times in New York. The last time was at Jamie’s wedding last year. I am sad to have seen this wonderfully special and unique tradition end. What is more amazing than the number of years we had these celebrations is the fact that among these five couples, there has not been a single divorce. That is so rare today. The only marriage not intact is because of death, not divorce.

Every year I think of those dinners. I miss them and cannot believe we did not take a single picture.