Remembrances of Thanksgivings Past

11 Dec

Grandpa Mapes--Thanksgiving Grandpa John Mapes, looking very dapper at what I think was a Thanksgiving dinner at the home I grew up in: 120 Kay Street, Ithaca, NY.  You can see that it was developed in Jan. ’68, so it could have been a Christmas dinner.  John, Barth, and I are playing with a 3-dimensional maze.


Unlike Christmas, which was a fairly consistent holiday for me over the years with repeated and expected traditions, Thanksgiving has reflected whatever stage I was in at that particular time in my life.  As a young child, I often found myself  in Cleveland, where my maternal grandparents lived or in Monticello, New York, where my paternal grandparents had a farm.  It is the Thanksgivings after my grandfather had to give up his farm and after my grandmother died that I remember most clearly.  These occurred in the dining room  of Grandpa Mapes’s new ranch style house around the old family table with its lace tablecloth and next to a cabinet with glass doors that held the family china and cut glass crystal dishware.  I developed a taste for creamed onions, a favorite of my grandfather’s that my mother prepared for him.  Sadly, I have not had it in recent years.

Mapes Family Thanksgiving

Again, this picture was taken at our house, and maybe was a Christmas dinner, because of the food that is on the table and the way that the mantel is decorated.  Dad is at the head of the table.  I’m to his left with my cat’s eyes glasses and Jan, who is a year younger than me, is seated to his right, then Uncle Jack, and Barth.  My cousin, John, who would have been a Cornell student at this point, is in the forefront adjusting his tie.

It is what we did before and after Thanksgiving dinner that stands out the most, however.  My cousin, Karen, and I wrote plays about the Indians and the pilgrims.  We did this in Grandpa’s study, where my brother and I slept on cots at night.  We wrote them at the desk where he did his figuring for his insurance work, which made us feel very grown up.  The desk was made of mahogany, back in the days when office furniture was made to last.  My brother Barth was not involved in the writing, but we often used him as an actor with a bit part in the drama.

After performing our play of that particular year, we would pass one of my grandfather’s ash trays to collect money for our performance.  This is back when the houses of smokers were strewn with ash trays, a fact which now seems surprising.   One year we ended up awash in tears, because we had to stop to make a necessary scene adjustment.  My Uncle Bill and Aunt Carol took that moment to  disappear, much to our chagrin.  They had to be coaxed to come back.  These were the years when William Bradford, the second Governor of Plymouth, was still a hero, and I’m sure our plays reflected that.

Once I moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 1977, my memories had more to do with friends than they did with family.  Or maybe I should say that my friends became family.  Occasionally, my parents would venture out for Thanksgiving, once during a blizzard, but my Minneapolis Thanksgivings are colored more by my experiences with the natives.  The scariest celebration occurred in Wisconsin.  If I remember correctly, the town was named Granville.  I was accompanying my girlfriend Cindy and her husband and relatives.  When I climbed out of the car and looked over the farmland, it actually looked somewhat pastoral, not unlike my grandparents’ farm.  On the way up from Minnesota, we had discussed how Cindy was planning to cook the Thanksgiving goose in Coca Cola.

Once we arrived, most of us sat down in the living room awaiting the meal preparations.  All of the sudden, Cindy’s brother-in-law, Teddy, picked up a rifle, ran outside to the front porch, lifted it up, and began to shoot.  He moved with the fluid motions of someone who had been a Vietnam vet.  All of the men ran outside to get the gun away from him.  I was thunderstruck.  This was the end.  I would be memorialized as one of a group of people who would be discovered a week from then riddled with bullet holes at the farm.  I have honestly never been as scared in my life. The men were able to get the gun. Yes, he was a former  vet, but his actions were those of a muddled drunk.  He probably had no idea what he was doing.  I still get a chill thinking about it.

The second most memorable Thanksgiving occurred a few years later. I was looking forward to a lonely meal.  My friend Scott Hanson was going to be with his family and my family had no plans to travel westward.  Cheffie, the midnight cook at the restaurant where I worked, heard about my plight and invited me to his apartment.  When I arrived, he was cooking up a storm in the kitchen, which I expected, but he was cooking dressed in his T-shirt and undershorts.  After a delicious dinner, we sat down on the sofa to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It was the only time in my life where I felt as though I were going to become ill right after Thanksgiving dinner.

My most consistent partner at Thanksgiving dinner in Minnesota was  Scott.  Our usual restaurant of choice was the Carousel Restaurant at the top of the downtown Radisson in St. Paul.  They served ham, turkey, and roast beef, any kind of cheese you could want with any kind of cracker, the gamut of possible salads, several different kinds of potatoes, a myriad of different vegetables, and many kinds of pies and cakes.  And to top that off, we were moving in a circle, so that the view of the Mississippi was constantly changing.  Of course, we would stuff ourselves.  Scott’s favorite thing to say on the way home was “Think what a thick cherry malt would taste like just about now.”  He enjoyed watching me grow green at the gills more than he enjoyed dinner.


4 Responses to “Remembrances of Thanksgivings Past”

  1. claireaperez December 11, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    Lovely post: nice conclusion🍒. Your Father is so handsome and strong looking! Bitter sweet to have memory!

  2. Martha Wallen December 11, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    That was an enjoyable column! The pictures brought back similar occasions with my parents. My house still has a 70s look to it, because most of the furniture comes from my parents’ house. It sounds like some of your strongest memories have to do with not feeling well after dinner for one reason or another.

    • Yes, those 70’s ranch style houses! I was looking for Thanksgiving posts, but think I ended up with Christmas ones instead. Anyway, it’s the same batch of people from my father’s family.

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