I grew up in a little town on Lake Superior. When Halloween was over and Thanksgiving was coming, we almost always had snow on the ground and were already wearing boots to school along with our mittens and hats.
Since we had to wear dresses to school every day, we wore tights although they did not really keep you very warm. Often times we would wear snow pants and tuck our dress or skirt in. This was the most sensible way to stay warm, so of course we didn’t think it was necessary.
When Thanksgiving would finally arrive, Clare and I would pile into the back seat of the blue Buick wagon. We were off to Gramma Al and Grampa Jack’s house. My Dad’s parents lived in Washburn which is about eleven miles each way. It’s on the other side of Chequamagon Bay. For some reason we thought this was a very long drive. So of course we sang and sang for the entire 15 minute trip. At least the singing took our minds off of how cold the car was, it didn't get warm in the car until we were pulling up in front of Gramma's house.
When we finally got to Gramma Al’s house we would run down from the drive way all the way to her door. In we ran and we were immediately hugged and kissed by Gramma and Aunt Susie who were in the kitchen cooking up a storm. They looked us over and decided we had grown very tall since summer, especially my brother Mike who is in fact very tall. Grampa Jack and Uncle Mac (who had one of those deep voices that guys on FM radio stations have) were already watching football on TV and it didn't seem to matter which teams were playing, they watched every game.
Clare and I would try and stay out of the way and would do whatever little thing we were trusted to do. We could do little jobs like set the table and put the turkey made out of pine cones in the center of the table. After that we just tried to stay out of the way and keep still. At about 1pm we gathered around the table for our meal. Clare and I,Mike, Mary, Mom, Dad, Aunt Susie, Uncle Mac, Gramma and Grampa all bowed our heads and prayed and then it began, the Thanksgiving feast.
This is probably the easiest holiday for a kid to understand next to Halloween. Basically, you watch football and eat a lot of food. I realize now that the celebration of Thanksgiving is not really a great thing. I know that we all need to think about what really happened to the Native Americans and accept that Thanksgiving is not really a celebration of our finest hour. The fact is we invaded another country and then slaughtered many of the natives. At this point in my young life in the 1960’s, Thanksgiving just meant having a big lunch at Gramma’s house.
There were some obstacles that we had to deal with during big family dinners. One of them was the fact that we were too little and not strong enough to pass the big platters and heavy serving bowls full of food. The adults would help us by putting stuff on our plates. Unfortunately we ended up with food we would not eat Thanksgiving dinner is one of our favorite meals, I love all the food except as a child I wouldn't eat rutabagas. But the worst thing for me was gravy. I don’t care for gravy and I still don’t eat anything with gravy on it. There is a really funny picture of me as a little girl. My Grampa Jack is putting gravy on my food and I’m making a face that says “yuck”.
In less than an hour, which is about 1/5th of the time it took to make the food, we were done eating lunch and Dad and Grampa and Uncle Mac were almost asleep watching a football game. Mike was stretched out on the couch, which was easy for him to do. He is so tall that stretching comes naturally to him.
There wasn’t a lot to do on Thanksgiving after lunch. We were little girls and too little to cook and also too little to be much help in the clean-up effort. Since this holiday is not like Christmas when you get new toys, we had to be creative to find something to keep us busy and not get in anyone's way or make too much noise. There was a heating grate in the floor upstairs. This grate was open to the downstairs. So every year after lunch, we would go get a pencil, tie a string to it and lower it down from above and try to keep the pencil away from anyone who tried to grab it. We lay on the floor upstairs, giggling like crazy for hours lowering that pencil and quickly pulling it up when someone tried to grab it.
Looking back I can’t believe how long that amused us. And we played with the pencil and string thing for years. I think my brother Mike showed us how to do it. Seriously we did this a lot. And it wasn't a different pencil and string, it was the same one. We had a little keepsake box made of cedar and we kept our pencil and string in it.
Occasionally we stayed overnight at Gramma Al''s house. If I spent the night I would sleep in Dad's room. There were 3 comic books in the nightstand. One was Jonny Quest and it had something to do with frogmen and submarines. I read those comics over and over again. Just like the pencil and the string, I never got tired of them.
Gramma told me that when my Dad was a little boy, he couldn’t go to sleep in a bed that hadn’t been made. She said he would get up in the middle of the night and remake his bed if it got messed up while he was sleeping. I don’t know if he really did that, but after Gramma told me that-- I can’t sleep in a bed that hasn’t been made and I have gotten up and turned on the light and remade my bed, sometimes with my husband in it.
Aunt Susie’s room was really just the opposite of my Dad's room, her room was very girly. She had a fancy striped bedspread, with matching pillow shams, curtains and a dressing table with the same matching fabric made into a skirt for the table. On the dressing table she had a little round box all decorated with ribbon and in it were 3 little bottles of French perfume. I was always very careful when I looked at those things. They were really fancy and I did not to want to do anything to wreck Aunt Susie’s stuff. I wasn't a very girly little girl. I'm still not very girly so for me looking at Aunt Susie's room was a like a peek into another world. The fancy fabric, a dressing table, French perfume none of those things were a part of my childhood. I wanted to be John Wayne when I was little, there was no room in my plans for a dressing table and perfume.
When the sun went down and we had eaten as much as humanly possible, it was time to go home. We were all worn out and quiet from the big meal and the effects of turkey. There was no singing on the way home and we normally went to bed without much complaining after the busy day of eating and pencil and string playing. It’s almost like I can still see the friendly faces and hear their voices. Gramma Al’s happy laughter, Mom’s smile, Dad’s snoring, Grampa Jack’s silence (he didn't talk a lot) and Uncle Mac’s deep booming voice cheering on one of the football teams. Clare and I giggling about the pencil and Mike taking a nap and Mary helping in the kitchen.
The little house on Main St. in Washburn. The one with the big picture window and the pretty trees. Below the big picture window on the front of the house was a sign with our family name, "Lamoreaux". It always made me feel good to drive by the house and see our name there. To know that part of our family was there and that's where my Dad and Aunt Susie grew up and where our Gramma and Grampa had a big garden and always made us feel welcome and loved.
My Dad and both his parents died in 1980 within a few months of each other. Dad first and then Grampa and Gramma right before Christmas. No matter how many years go by, I can still see Gramma’s blue eyes and hear her voice and laughter. I can see Grampa’s big strong hands and his dark eyes. And I can still see Clare as a little girl, she and I in our dresses, laying on the hardwood floor upstairs, with a pencil and some string, giggling while we taunted someone downstairs with our pencil.
It is the little things that make your memories special. It’s not fancy china or crystal glassware. It’s the hands your hold when you pray and the hugs and kisses you get when you come in the door and before you go home. Those are the things you keep in your heart forever. Thanks for listening.