Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mr. Tad's Thanksgiving; and some sappy stuff

We just returned home from Thanksgiving dinner. Quite a gathering, perhaps the last of an era because Jas and Kathy have been talking of spending a lot of time in Florida after they retire next August. The Thanksgiving gathering has been at their house for about the last ten years, so we may be getting toward one of those unpleasant junctions in life when old and familiar things change.

Today's gathering included Jas, Kathy, Johnny, Angela, Jenny, Doug, me, Linda, Alex, Christina, Sam, Debra, Samuel, Don, Delores, Marianne, Dave, Liana, Catherine, Mark, Linda and Mark. Dave A had to work, so he missed dinner, although he was around earlier in the day.

Twenty-two of us sharing the most precious thing of all to be thankful for.

Not the food, although the food, prepared mostly by Kathy and Jenny, was excellent - traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts, peas, a tart cranberry relish, a sweet cranberry mold and, of course, multiple desserts. The food was great, but Thanksgiving gatherings have boasted similar food for all of my sixty years.

And not the scintillating conversation, even though it was wide ranging. And even though Linda remembered that my frog once had a proper name, Mr. Tad. In observance of Thanksgiving I gave Mr. Tad a special treat today, a little pinch of bloodworms from the quarter of an ounce container out of which he has gotten an occasional pinch for about fifteen years. He likes bloodworms, a lot; and even frogs should have reason to be thankful.

And not the memories evoked as we older folks remembered the days of The Three Stooges and bemoaned the fact that the youngsters have no respect for the great old black and white movies. All leading, as such remembrance conversations sometimes do, to marvelling about how Aunt Mary R became fascinated with the story of Lorena Bobbitt, holding her up as an example to all womankind after the first little snippet about her appeared in The Times Herald, long before the story went national in a big way. "Good for her. . .That's what all you men deserve," was her greatest quote. A complex and interesting woman, Aunt Mary R, harboring some deep currents under the image of the dutiful Italian housewife.

But I was talking about being thankful. The most important thing we all have to be thankful for is the fact that Mom and Pop succeeded in raising the four of us in such a way that we have remained compatible one with the other, and as a family, for all of the past forty nine years since Marianne appeared. Even more miraculously, the four of us have all been fortunate enough to make good and lasting marriages to spouses who are also compatible.

For more than fifty years that I can attest to we've been gathering for dinners on Thanksgiving. And that's besides the gatherings for dinner on Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter, and for picnics, cookouts, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. We've been a close family even putting aside the run of the mill Sunday dinners and desserts, the Saturday morning coffee klatches, the weekday evening visits, the weeklong vacations together in Stone Harbor, then Chincoteague, then Corolla Light and finally The Villages, plus a couple of road trips out west.

Early on in that period we Augustines clustered with the hordes of ravenous Raimos and Luzis and Capones and Romanos and Piermarinis and DiAngelis's at 403 Walnut Street in Norristown. Grandmom L and Aunt Mary R did the honors for dinners that included thirty or forty, not counting those who stopped by after dinner to pay their respects to Grandmom and Grandpop L, and maybe stay for coffee and "just a little dessert."

At the very peak of decadence back then I remember Thanksgiving dinners that included turkey and all the trimmings as above, plus a ham, plus lasagna and meatballs, all topped off with one of Aunt Mary's signature four layer twenty pound rum cream cakes, several of Mom's apple pies, a couple of pumpkin pies and Aunt Nancy's nonpareil rice pudding which could not be resisted even if one was near to bursting. It's fortunate there were no seat belts in those days, because it would surely have been painful to put them on for the ride back home. Looking back from the perspective of this cholesterol aware age, it's amazing anyone emerged alive from those dinners.

After the gatherings switched to 2808 Second Avenue in Trooper the menu tailed off to turkey and the trimmings, most memorably topped off with one of Mom's cookie sheet apple pies during the period in which she decided that one huge rectangular pie was more efficient to produce than several smaller round ones. Has anyone ever made better apple pie than mom, with that flaky crust that can only be achieve with lard or crisco. There were, of course, always a couple of pumpkin pies that one had to at least sample as well; and sometimes lasagna sneaked onto the menu; but I don't think Mom ever added a ham to the mix.

After dinner and dessert in Trooper, of course, we had to go down to Norristown to visit Grandmom and Grandpop. And it was impossible, once there, to avoid having a couple pieces of rum cream cake and maybe another piece of pie. It would then have been impolite not to at least stop in and say hi to Aunt Carmella, and doubly impolite to turn down her offer of coffee and maybe some cookies to force down while Russos, Jackinskis, Prostocks and DiPrinzios ebbed and flowed around.

Gatherings for Thanksgiving at Mom and Pop's Hopwood Road house in Collegeville, are the most memorable, of course. For what previous occurrences could have competed with the joy at the successive arrival of the various cute little rugrats - John, Rebecca, Jennifer, David, Alex, Samuel, Donald, Catherine and Liana - who first crawled and then ran around in their diapers, and occasionally broke loose and ran around without their diapers, their fathers oblivious and their mothers in hot pursuit.

If each member of that new generation is one tenth as lucky in their relationships as Linda and I have been in the steady closeness we've enjoyed with their parents they will be lucky indeed in life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Update 11/29: Marianne, my annoyingly watchful sister, reminded me last evening that Thanksgiving dinners after 1990 had come full circle and were down at 403 Walnut because Mom was then living with Aunt Mary R. The dinners moved up to Canci Court when Mom moved in with Jas and Kathy after Aunt Mary died. Thus Catherine and Liana celebrated their first Thanksgivings with the family at 403 Walnut.


Anonymous said...

Discussing the time spent with those you love at Thanksgiving and being thankful for the fact that you have such a wonderful and supportive family who does much more than just see each other at weddings and funerals is not sappy.

It's nice. And I enjoyed reading about it.

I'm glad you had a wonderful holiday.

My very best to everyone in your family.


Sully said...

Thanks for the comment and the good wishes. I hope you had a great holiday also.

You're causing me to think about writing a very difficult post on the paradox at the center of our close family. Mom and Pop were not demonstrative about their feelings in any of the usual ways.

True fact - I don't remember Mom or Pop ever hugging any of us. And I don't remember our grandparents ever hugging any of us after we were too big to pick up and hold. Mom, in fact, used to joke about the hugging habit that was brought into the family by my one aunt.

I never doubted for a second that any of us could ask for anything within their power to give and Mom and Pop would do it for us; but the idea of returning home, even after a couple of years away, and having an emotional scene was completely alien. You have me trying to remember if I ever shook Pop's hand.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the oldest portrait photos, you will find that people generally did not smile and that physical contact was limited. I have always suspected that in the old days, people frowned upon overt displays of emotion.

There is no doubt that hugs are important, particularly for infants. As you may know, infants who are not held or touched in orphanages have been know to suffer from "failure to thrive".

Being touched also releases endorphins. Perhaps it is Mother Nature's way of ensuring the survival of the species.

But hugs can also come at a price, as some people use them as a form of manipulation.

What is most important is whether or not someone is there to share in your troubles and your triumphs. For some people, lending a helping hand is their way of giving you a hug.