As I sat soaking in a foot onsen (foot bath) in a beautifully serene setting in Misawa, my friends and I were talking about Thanksgiving and “Friendsgiving”. We talked about the Thanksgiving holiday and the importance of family and how important a “Friendsgiving” can be when you are so far from home. We all recalled a specific get together of friends and I regaled them with a “Friendsgiving” story that occurred in Kurashiki, Japan in the late 90s. My wife and I celebrated the holiday with a group of friends that consisted of people from America, New Zealand, Australia, England, and Japan. Everyone brought a dish and there were plenty of drinks, as there always were in those days. Doug, my best friend to this day, and a couple of other lads had some innocent fun down near the water shooting air guns at one another (don’t try this at home!), then we ate a huge meal, drank some beer, and told stories about our families. We had a grand time!
An ancient Thanksgiving celebration that can never be repeated, except in my thoughts as I yearn to go back in time.
Yet as I sit here now as the sun sets on this rather cold, gray, snowy Misawa day, I have realized that I selfishly kept the best story to myself. The one of family and an ancient Thanksgiving celebration that can never be repeated, except in my thoughts as I yearn to go back in time. This Thanksgiving story occurred when I was child living on a farm in Kansas in the early 1970s. I think back on this feast that officially kicks off the “holiday season” and I am immediately reminded of my mother and the family and friends that, during my childhood, always sat around our Thanksgiving table: aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Our farm was the perfect gathering place. Plenty of space outdoors for us kids to play games like Red Rover, Hide & Seek, and throw the football around. And there was always a hunting party out hoping to bag a pheasant or quail.
On this Thanksgiving, all of the regulars were there: Mom, dad, me, and my little brother Brian; Uncle Les and Aunt Joyce with cousins Joy, Carrie, Rick, and Rory; our good friend Norman and his boys Kenny and Dennis; and Grandma Moody. Our kitchen in that little farm house was small and I’m not really sure how we fit everyone in around all the food! The kitchen table would have four to five people jammed around it with food and plates leaving hardly any room to maneuver. Next to it would be a small card table loaded with food and four more chairs. And to expand a little more, another table or two would be set up in the living room next to the stereo cabinet and CB station to accommodate four to six more people and loads of food and desserts.
My mom began this dinner by calling everyone to the table. Once we were all seated, a knife clinking the side of a glass could be heard amidst all the chatter. It was my mother. “Could I have everyone’s attention please?” she asked as her voice lifted above the din. “I have an announcement to make. I want everyone to fill your plates, but don’t start eating.” And fill our plates we did! A plethora of dishes were present: chicken, ham, beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, peas, cranberries, and hot rolls. And the desserts! Chocolate cream pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and usually two of each kind of pie. You’re probably thinking, where’s the turkey, which is what I was thinking at the time along with everyone else.
And one of the greatest sounds in the world commenced: the sound of a roomful full of people eating, the clinking of forks, requests to pass this or pass that, and family and friends talking, laughing, and giving thanks for one another.
Once all of our plates were heaped with food, my Uncle Les said the blessing and then the clank of the knife was heard again and my mother began her announcement right where she left off. “Now that you all have a plate of food, I want to announce that the food on this table, with the exceptions being the milk, hot rolls, and desserts, was raised or grown right here on this farm!” she proclaimed with a pride that was contagious! “We’ll have to raise a turkey for next year!” Ahhh, that explains the absence of the turkey, which no one seemed to mind as we still had a roasted chicken wishbone to snap! “Dig in everyone!” And one of the greatest sounds in the world commenced: the sound of a roomful full of people eating, the clinking of forks, requests to pass this or pass that, and family and friends talking, laughing, and giving thanks for one another.
After an hour or so, the Thanksgiving feast transitioned into the land of dessert. I can still see and hear my cousin, Rick, ask my father to bring him his pie! Earlier in the day, my dad made a deal with Rick. He told him if he dug this deep post hole for him, he could have an entire pie of his choice all to himself. This was a post hole for a yard light out near our barn and would have to be at least six feet deep. It took most of the afternoon, but Rick dug that post hole. And when dessert was served, he looked at my dad and said, “Well Larry, I’ll take my pie now!” My dad walked over to the desserts, picked up the pie requested, and gently set it down in front of Rick. “Dig in! You earned every crumb,” he stated with just a little fanfare! After dessert, the adults settled in to play cards or marbles while all of us kids went outside into the cold night to play Hide & Go Seek.
Is it possible that I have melded together a couple of Thanksgiving dinners in this memory? Yes, it’s entirely possible, but when I am far from home and family this time of year, this memory is the one that I always recall. The one that I yearn for deep in my soul. A memory of a simpler time with family. And for that, I am ever thankful.
© 2018 Gregory Vessar