A Thanksgiving Return

Happy Thanksgiving

I wrote this piece several years ago after comparing my holiday feast to the meager fare of my childhood in Granite City, Illinois.  The theme of sharing still seems relevant in today’s nutritionally challenged and socially hungry world.

When my three brothers and I were growing up, we never saw a table laden with stuffed turkey and tantalizing vegetables and salads such as I am about to prepare for my family this Thanksgiving.  Such a sight would have boggled our minds.  Our simple meals consisted of potatoes or Navy beans, an occasional piece of pork chop, and extra dessert on holidays.  We never expected more and always bowed our heads and said, “Thank you for this for this food and all other blessings” when we sat down to eat.

Father worked long hours in a steel mill trying to put that food on the table, and Mother worked just as hard washing and ironing clothes for others.  Enough food was cooked so that at our meals every dish was left empty, and as I recall, each of us could have filled our plates again had there been more on the table.  There usually wasn’t anything left over, probably because of the extra person who shared our meager fare.  That extra person was either the little boy down the street, a hobo passing through town, the widow upstairs, or anyone in the neighborhood who was sick or lonely.

Give Thanks

The people who ate from our table never realized what a struggle it was for us at times.  Certainly the little boy who lived down the street didn’t.  When he first started playing with my brothers, he sat on the back porch while we ate.  One day Father told him, “If you’re hungry, son, come and eat.” After that he was usually at one corner of our table, laughing and talking as though he belonged there.  I can’t remember why he didn’t go home to eat.  I do remember that he was an only child, wore clean clothes every day, got a haircut when he needed it, and had Twinkies for recess at school.

The only meal he didn’t eat with us was breakfast, but that was often shared with one or two hobos who changed boxcars on their way to St. Louis or Chicago. Word had spread that Mother would feed breakfast to anyone who was hungry. As a result, the hobos were often on our back porch—sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone, but always wrinkled, unshaven], and weary-looking. Mother could never refuse their plaintive request, “Can you spare a bite to eat Ma’am?”

Any leftover bread was made into pudding and often taken to the widow upstairs, to the sad elderly couple on the corner whose son had been killed in the war, or to anyone in the neighborhood who was sick. Eventually Mother’s bread pudding was eaten by everyone on the block.  Her only disappointment was that there were times when she didn’t have more of it to share.

My only disappointment this Thanksgiving is that I can’t whisk my holiday table back in time to the stark little kitchen of my childhood.  If I could, I would stand back and watch my brothers and parents hurry in and gaze in utter amazement at the array of stuffed turkey cranberry sauce, candied yams, salads, and pumpkin pie.

But they wouldn’t sit down to eat—no, not until someone had gone to get the little boy down the street, another to get the widow upstairs, still another get the sad elderly couple, and of course, someone would have to call in all the hobos who were hopping freights to St. Louis and Chicago.  Only then would our strange-looking group sit down to eat.

Thanksgiving Feast

How that little kitchen would tremble with laughter and thanksgiving.  Since we shared when we had so little, I simply can’t imagine our not sharing if, for one moment, we could have had a lot.

And since I have so much this Thanksgiving, I want to share it with others. The people in our neighborhood live in nice houses and have plenty to eat, and I haven’t seen a hobo for years.  Somewhere, though, there must be a lonely child or woman or man who would like to sit down with me and my family this holiday and be thankful for our “food and all other blessings.”  I’m going to try to find those people and invite them in.

Lori Grippo (OLLI Member and Writer’s Group Participant)

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Stories for Morning Coffee

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This is the 51st episode of morning conversations between Leon (on the left) and Max.  They typically talk about their daily travails, as well as one social issue or another. I record their conversation each Thursday.

A little background:  Leon, 80, is a former managing editor of the Denver Post, and Max, 80, is a former principal of the largest High School in Denver.  The two men, and their wives, Cora and Bev respectively, both deceased, were neighbors and best friends in Denver for 30 years. Their four children (two each) were practically raised together.  About the time Leon and Max were ready to retire, all four of their hard-charging children moved to NY. To be closer to their children and grandchildren, both moved to as fancy condo building in Manhattan.

These two down-to-earth men prefer the back of the building to the front, which is too up-scale to suit them. Also their good friend, Simon, owns an excellent little bakery/café across the way.  He joins them almost every morning, bringing coffee and bagels.

That’s pretty much it.  They spar each morning only like two men who feel like brothers can do.  Their personalities are similar in many ways (e.g. with regard to social issues) but differ in other ways (e.g., Leon tends to be more plugged-in than Max.) They goof around with each other, argue, and always talk about some social ill affecting the country.

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“Leon, did you know that the DOW topped a new number yesterday?”

“I keep up with the news, Max.  Of course I know. Do you know the number?”

“22.”

“23. Twenty-three thousand.  But I’m impressed, Max.  You were close.”

“There are better things to do when you’re 80, Leon, than burying your nose in that phone of yours.  Like smelling mulch.”

“What?  You go from the DOW to smelling mulch just like that?”

“I was walking down the hall on the way down here, and I smelled mulch.”

“And…”

“It took me back to the days when we had yards.  And yours was two doors down.  And we had a street we called our own.  And the four of us played bridge a lot.  And I spread mulch.”

“And you spread mulch…”

“Every couple of years, I’d get a truck load of shredded walnut and spread it over the side yard and under the shrubbery.  You usually helped.”

“Usually…?  And I do remember the smell.  Rich, like fresh cut grass. The two of us even painted our houses one summer.”

“Must have been a slow news summer.  You worked longer hours than I did, Leon.  The ever-lovin’ Denver Post couldn’t run without you.  I had lots of school events at night, but I managed.”  We both did.  And we enjoyed doing nine things at once.”

“What’s really bugging you this morning, Max?”

“We need to do more.  We need to spread more mulch.”

“Max, we do a lot.  We go to shows, attend lectures, tutor, and work at the food kitchen…  There’s only so many hours in the day.”

“Leon, ol’ buddy, the world still needs more sweet-smellin’ mulch.  One pail at a time.”

“And we need to look around and admire what we see.  Look at all the dimensions in people.  And enjoy the gardens all around us – real and metaphorical.”

“The ‘silo’ thing drives me nuts.  I was talking to Dusty, the gun fella, the other day, and Mrs. Collins walked by and looked daggers through me. One dimension is all she sees.”

“Dusty a good guy.  He’s built a plumbing contracting business from scratch. I’ve met his wife and kids.  They’re nice people.”

“Yeah.  We’re on a different page with guns, but I sure do like ol’ Dusty.”

“Dimensions, Maxie.  Everybody is more than just one thing.  Politics for example.  People shouldn’t judge you solely because you campaigned for Woodrow Wilson.”

“I’m not that old, Turkey neck!  Here comes Simon.  Man, he’s got zing in his step this morning.  His wife must be feeling better.”

“I hope so.  They’ve really been through it the last couple of weeks.”

 

Tim Hoyt (OLLI Member, Writer’s Group SIG participant, Hospitality Committee and all-round OLLI enthusiast!)

 

OLLI Study Trip to Our Nation’s Capital

 

grp 2 with Terry, guide, mail

I have always enjoyed visiting Washington, D.C. The monuments, memorials, museums, the history, the architectural and botanical beauty of this seat of government—All are there to be experienced anew on each visit. The OLLI study trip on October 11th—13th provided opportunities to partake of these “gems” on the Capitol Mall, led by a skilled tour guide who shared information about the monuments, memorials and Capitol Building that added to the sense of awe, respect, and national pride I invariably feel when I visit Washington. I also had a lovely introduction to two memorials that I had not previously experienced—The Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Memorials. Both captured the essence of the two men’s eloquence and ability to deeply move and inspire, and though they are long departed, their words still can and do.

FDRMLK best

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited three of the war memorials—World War II, Vietnam, and Korean Wars. All three are uniquely special places of remembrance, and honor in such meaningful ways those who fought and those who gave their lives. The World War II Memorial always holds special meaning for me, as my father served in that war. Like so many veterans of World War II, he passed away before the memorial was built. I thus hold him extra close to my heart when I visit there, in hopes that through my eyes perhaps he can somehow see and feel this hallowed place, and know that the courage and sacrifice of those who fought will never be forgotten.

Viet Nam, mail

Korean

 

This trip also featured visits to the Smithsonian Museums, and highlighted the new Museum of African-American History and Culture. I have looked forward to experiencing this museum ever since one of its chief architects (and NC State graduate), Phil Freelon, gave us a preview of it three years ago when he was the speaker at OLLI’s fall kick-off event. He shed light on the design features and symbolism of the beautiful exterior façade of the building, and for me that set the stage for finally being able to go inside.

 

There are six floors in this important museum, three of which are underground. Symbolically, it is down deep in the ground where the exhibits pertaining to the horrors of slavery are found. In the bowels of slave ships, the men, women and children ripped from their families and villages on the west coast of Africa faced their awful fates, and a staggering number died during the voyages. The graphically detailed exhibits in the museum made me wonder whether those who died in the dungeons of slave ships were the more fortunate ones.

African Amer

However, this museum is not only about slavery, racism, and the centuries of mistreatment of African-Americans that ensued in our country. On the floors above ground, up in the sunlit parts of this magnificent new building, the exhibits capture the courage to prevail and overcome. They spotlight the extraordinary talents and ingenuity, the mental and physical abilities, and the unique contributions of African-Americans to our country and culture. One thus leaves this museum with a range of emotions—simultaneously heavy-hearted but also exuberant; and with a sense of shame but also a sense of gratitude—and hope.

Carol Rahmani, OLLI Member, Former Chair of Program Committee and Advisory Council , currently serving on Program Committee.

Friends

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Last week was busy. I attended my 60th high school reunion. We had one of the smallest classes to graduate from Chestertown Central School in the small Adirondack hamlet of Chestertown NY. Nine graduates. Four girls and five boys. First through eighth grades were located on the first floor and high school the second floor. Of course, now there is a “new and better” school taking in a much larger area, however our old school set a high standard for excellence, and even the building still remains as resolute as the class of ’57. Now the once noisy class rooms house the town offices, and even a well-appointed museum. Our old class rooms are still there, and it’s nice to re-visit our school rooms to see where we once sat as students. They even have the same blackboards. However it was a bit humbling when we visited the museum and found some of our pictures displayed as the class of ’57, like it was ancient history.

Our first get-to-gather for our reunion was in a little cross-roads town called Adirondack, NY. It even has a post office. Not counting the summer tourists, I doubt less than 100 persons call it home. It’s wonderful. Located at the foot of Schroon Lake, my wife and I took a two mile walk and probably encountered less than 15 cars. One of my schoolmates kept her grandparents’ farm house which dates back at least 100 years, and she invited us to use it as our headquarters. By tradition, the “boys” prepared the evening supper and did whatever the “girls” told us to do. It was rather cold there last Friday, so we didn’t sit on the wrap-a-round porch. The whole ambience of the house exudes one of warmth and welcoming. Ellie, the hostess, wouldn’t let us build a fire in the woodstove, she said something about insurance rates would go up, so we didn’t push that issue. I missed that. That’s how we heated our farm house. Besides lots of food and a well decorated cake, most of us displayed school memorabilia and then topped off the evening singing hymns and praise songs.

Sunday, most of us went to Irv’s church in Queensbury, NY. Irv was our artist for many of our school projects, and he has become a very accomplished artist, painting many of the Sunday school room’s walls with murals that fit the rooms’ theme determined by the church.

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Monday, we left Queensbury and drove to Brandon, VT, to meet up with my younger brother and his wife at my older brother’s farm to celebrate his 80th birthday. After taking him to a nice restaurant we all stayed at his house that night. The next morning, my younger brother and his wife left for their home near Syracuse NY. Then after Wayne filled his farm stand with his world-famous vegetables, he, along with my wife, Georgeanne, and I drove about five hours to Mt. Washington, NH. My intention was to drive to the top of the famous mountain. On the way I told Wayne I wanted to drive the 8 miles up the steep, winding and narrow road to the top. Wayne kept saying let’s take the tour van because it was safer. I finally convinced him I could safely drive up and back and besides I wanted to drive it so I could put the bumper sticker on my car that read, “This car drove up Mt. Washington.” I paid the required fee and started up. I believe everyone on top also decided to descend at the same time. Passing was real tricky with very little room for vehicles to pass. Sometimes, I would be a couple of inches from the passing car and probably not much more from the edge of the road to a perceived abyss. My wife could not stand to watch and shielded her eyes with her hand until we passed, then I could move to the middle of the road, only to be pushed to the cliff side again by another descending car. This was repeated until we reach the summit. It was so much fun!

IMG_20171003_133732We arrived on top to a calm day for the summit, but a jacket felt good. It had snowed several days before and some was still there. The views were spectacular. Looking west we had no clouds to obscure our view of the presidential range and far in the valley below a ski slope. The famous cog railroad to the summit inched along below us bellowing black smoke from its coal burning engine until it arrived at its station atop the mountain. Look at the above picture which tells of the extreme weather on the top. Snow and ice are not uncommon any time of year.

3people on mountain

Our trip back was relatively uneventful, but arriving at the Baltimore and Washington beltway at 5:00 PM proved to be an event I hope never to repeat.

Renewing friendships and gaining new friends once again proved why we like to travel.

Larry D. Kingsley (OLLI Member, OLLI Writer’s Group  participant)