If there is a holiday more focused on family and friends than Thanksgiving, I don't know it. While other holidays including ostensibly religious holidays like Christmas, have strong familial and friendship components,those elements really aren't the central theme. I suppose one can say that family and friends aren't the central theme for Thanksgiving either, but what can people be more thankful for than their family and friends? I guess there are unfortunate people without either good family or good friends, who hopefully have something else to be thankful for. To me, though, those are the main things I am thankful for. To be sure, I am thankful for many other things as well, but I have been particularly lucky on both counts.
This Thanksgiving will be spent with my three best friends from high school and our families as we come together to celebrate our friendship and our collective 50th birthday year. These three guys, Armando, Dom & John, I have known for thirty-seven years. Together we established a very special bond all those years ago. We are so close and know each other so well, that we are basically family, though not of the same blood. This, despite the fact that we have spread across the country and don't get to see each other individually or together nearly as much as we would like. Each of us also have close bonds with others from our high school and other years, people like Pete the Greek, for example, who through the wonder of facebook has once again become an important part of our lives. Being able to get together either in person or virtually is wonderful and something special to give thanks for.
I usually spend Thanksgiving with at least a few of my siblings. As readers of this blog know, we have a special relationship and enjoy each others' company immensely. I am especially thankful for that, as I realize that isn't the case for every family. Thanksgiving, though, has an extra dimension and poignancy for my siblings and I, one that makes memories of past Thanksgivings even more special.
Of course, I have plenty of memories of Thanksgivings through the years. Growing up in an Italian-American family, of course we had a roasted turkey on Thanksgiving. It would have been un-American not to! But we always had lasagne on Thanksgiving as well. It would have been un-Italian not to have that or some other pasta delight! Just because we had lasagne, didn't mean we skimped on the sides either or the desserts, my favorite of which was always pumpkin pie. In my household, we really didn't have any bakers in those days. There really wasn't any reason to, because we had all the good bakeries we could have needed in Brooklyn. The Italian bakeries were amazing when it came to pastries and breads. The cannolis and other pastries were (and still are) sensational. When it came to pumpkin pie, though, the best was from Ebinger's, a bakery that sadly closed sometime in the late '60's or early 70's. They couldn't compete with the distribution efficiencies of Entenmann's despite the fact that their quality was far superior to Entenmann's.
Food was of extreme importance and the centerpiece of Thanksgiving, but the other major childhood Thanksgiving tradition that has lived on for me, was something I watched on tv. No, it wasn't the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, though I did usually watch it. It was the day that the local NYC television stations (it varied over the years I believe) showed Laurel & Hardy's March of the Wooden Soldiers, which owing to this wonderfully positive association, remains one of my favorite films of all time. I still get goose bumps when I watch Oliver and Stan start up the wooden soldiers to the stirring sounds of Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland music. It is always great to see Silas Barnaby get his come-uppance.
Over more recent years, my family and I have spent the bulk of our Thanksgivings at my brother Larry's house, festive with friends, family and outstanding Thanksgiving food. As my childhood Thanksgiving memories stem from my family home in Brooklyn, most of my own children's memories will stem from here.
The most significant Thanksgiving day memory for me, though, happened 17 years ago today, November 26th. That day, Thanksgiving then as it is today and hasn't been until today, is the day that my mother, Irma, passed away. It is never an easy day to lose a parent. It can be particularly difficult on or around a holiday. Thanksgiving, though helped make it a little easier then and now. This was also true back in 1996 when my father passed away shortly before Thanksgiving and again five years ago, when my lovely mother-in-law, Jane White, passed away just prior to Thanksgiving too. The reason why being Thanksgiving helped, is that it forced me to remember and be thankful for all the good things those wonderful people brought into my life. It was still difficult to accept their passing, but being thankful for their making me and my family what we are, is what the holiday is all about.
I wish all of you and your families the happiest of Thanksgivings and a Thanksgiving that you can remember positively and with joy forever.