When I was growing up in Galesburg, Thanksgiving was mainly important to me because it marked the start of the Christmas season.
In an age when Christmas shopping begins the day after Halloween, thats hard to believe but it was true six decades ago. Merchants even convinced President Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November in order to gain another week of shopping. That lasted only a couple years because people resented the change. (For one thing, it screwed up the college football schedule because a lot of traditional rivalries were settled on Thanksgiving.)
Macys Christmas parade on Thanksgiving morning in New York traditionally marked the start of the Yule season. There was no television to see it on in those days and radio did not broadcast it but within a week, we could see highlights of it on newsreels at the local movie theaters.
Galesburg also had a Christmas parade on Friday which featured simple floats, bands from GHS and the junior highs, and what seemed like half the kids in Galesburg marching or cavorting in home-made costumes. Elves and reindeer predominated. Old St. Nick himself was the climax usually on a Galesburg fire truck. Thanksgiving Day itself was a much quieter affair for most folks. For the Monsons, it meant a trip to Grandpa and Grandma Watts house. And no "over the river and through the woods." Just across Main from Blaine, one block south on Pine, turn right on Mulberry and there we were! We traveled not in a horse and sleigh but in our 1938 Chevrolet, my sister Sue and I bouncing in back in anticipation of the feast ahead.
Sometimes, Moms sister Evelyn would be there with her banker husband and their two kids all the way from Dorchester, Nebraska. A few times, Moms brother Gale would come down from Chicago with his wife Patti Clayton the lead singer on the Carnation Hour. (I had a desperate crush on her.)
On the other hand, I disliked my cousins. Roger was a year younger than I, hungry for attention, and jealous of anything I did. His sister Linda was a year older than my sister Sue and constantly tried to boss her around. Sooner or later, sparks would fly and sometimes fists. It could begin with Sue squawking at Linda taking a toy or pushing her. When I came to her defense, Roger would take his sisters side. No matter how it started, the overall result was the same shoving, wrestling, even punching until the grownups intervened. As the oldest, I usually caught most of the blame. Depending on the level of violence (I seem to remember a broken storm window from a football thrown at my head) we boys would be swatted and sent upstairs to cool off Roger to the guest bedroom, I to the sewing room. And woe betide us if we left our "cells." Grandpa Watts shaved with a straight razor and his razor strop hung all too handy beside the bathroom wash basin. Meanwhile, Grandma Watts was head chef in the kitchen. Mom and Aunt Eve might work with her; but they were mere assistants. Grandma wanted everything just so; the result was she usually did most of the work herself.
Aunt Patti sat in the livingroom with the men as they talked about the harvest in Nebraska, the Burlingtons move toward diesel locomotives, or Gale and Pattis careers in radio. I loved to hear about the latter (if I wasnt in hack upstairs) but they didnt talk nearly enough about them. It was only after their divorce that I realized she was a star and he was in the chorus and that stung his pride and sense of worth. My ambivalence toward show business was born as I sat on the living room floor on those Thanksgivings 60 years ago. The meal itself is nearly beyond description: turkey, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, glazed yams, creamed corn, muffins, cider, pumpkin pie with whipped cream. There was no kids table; we youngsters sat on cushions to reach the big table. Our mothers filled our plates; and we ate until our eyes bulged. After the dishes were washed and dried, the adults dozed in their living room chairs while we kids looked at picture books or played quietly with toys in the hall. We were so stuffed we didnt have the power to squabble.
In the slanting sun of late afternoon, we might go outside as a family to the large side yard to walk, talk or throw a ball. Pictures would be taken on Kodak box cameras or on my wealthy uncles 35-millimeter wonders.
Eventually, the evening chill would drive us inside where Grandma spread a supper of left- overs cold turkey and cranberry sauce with muffins. Dessert would be hot minced pie with vanilla ice cream.
After the dishes were done, everyone would convene in the living room for more talk or to listen to something special on the radio. At eight oclock, we said our good-byes. Gale and Patti would head for the Custer Hotel, the Clarks would retire to the guest bedroom, we Monsons would make the quick trip back to Blaine Avenue.
No matter how the day went, all of us carried a bit of family joy in our hearts; and thats what I wish for you and yours wherever youll be on this Thanksgiving Day.