What is your very favorite holiday? Recount the specific memory or memories that have made that holiday special to you.
Dad’s dream was to own his own business. That’s sort of everybody’s dream, but Dad wanted to own a bar (actually ‘bar’ is too sophisticated; “beer joint” would be more apropos).
This was what my Mom had in mind when it came to Thanksgiving.
Dad’s business plan was to sell beer. Food was something he would offer to keep the customer there to drink more beer. On the other hand; Mom’s plan was to provide good meals and the beer would come as a compliment to the food. Dad wanted a bar/restaurant and Mom wanted a restaurant/bar.
This sort of tug of war is nothing unusual. Everything is perspective and one trying to accommodate the other, but frankly accommodation was the furthest thing from Dad’s mind.
Dad’s first year in the “beer joint” business, like all businesses, was tough. The first big holiday to come along was Thanksgiving. He knew that week would be bad. In the “beer joint” business it’s all about the weekend Thanksgiving takes the weekend away.
We all have an idyllic view or memory of Thanksgiving; a farm, a field with a dusting of snow, and a warm home full of the aromas of food and family.
Traditionally our family had Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s sister’s home. They lived on a farm and had plenty of room to accommodate the entire family. There is nothing more pleasing and heartwarming than a Thanksgiving meal on a quaint bucolic farm setting; fields with a dusting of snow and walking into a warm kitchen full of the aroma of good home cooking.
Dad envisioned a big Thanksgiving meal at the bar where the beer flowed freely: an open invitation to all patrons and their families. Mom wanted to spend Thanksgiving with her family; in thankful grace and reverence.
Dad won out.
Mom invited her family.
Mom’s Father, Mother, and Sister belonged to the Church of the Brethren. There was no beer, no cursing, and no farting at the table.
Dad thought there was nothing better to be thankful about than a bar full of beer drinkers.
Mom and Dad arranged that the family could have a large room separate from the hedonistic bar clientele. What was great about this room was that not only was it more than large enough for all the families; it had a shuffle board, two pinball machines, an old honky-tonk piano, and a jukebox. Mom’s family opted for the more traditional setting. Mom’s sister played church music as bad as anybody on the piano and if there was one thing that old piano needed was some religion – even if off-key.
As it turned out Mom’s puritan and prudish family decided at the last-minute a bar on the seedy side of town was not a proper place to give thanks. When Mom said, “Maybe we can do it for Christmas,” there was silence.
Mom prepared three turkeys, a ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, Mom’s signature cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie. Not only did the family shun us, but not one patron showed up for the Thanksgiving meal.
When it became clear no one was showing up; Mom called a local homeless shelter and donated some of the food.
My two sisters and I missed our cousins, but it was one of the few meals, if not the only, I remember as a family.
When we gathered with Mom’s family the meal was started with a blessing. This privilege was reserved for my younger cousin. He mumbled it so fast I never understood him. I always wondered what was the difference in that, than saying what our family normally said; “Let’s eat!” Was he truly thankful or just as anxious to eat. Come to think of it; he always got the first scoop of mashed potatoes.
During the meal Mom was quiet. I saw a tear or two roll from her eye. After the meal Mom, my two sisters, and I played a couple games of shuffle board. Mom was really good at it and smoked us all. Dad sat at the table having his traditional Thanksgiving drink; Burger Beer.
It ended up being a pretty happy time. We listened to Hank Williams and Hank Snow on the Jukebox. My sisters were eight and ten years older than me. I was seven. They danced with me. Dad danced with Mom to their favorite song, “Now is the Hour.” We cleared the table and washed dishes. As nightfall came we turned on the TV that sat above the bar. Dad, Mom, my sisters, and I sat at the bar on bar stools with our beverage of choice watching TV.
That was not the traditional Thanksgiving setting. Dad fixed Mom a highball (gin and Squirt). It seemed to chase the blahs away.
As I was writing this I gave Mom a call and asked her if she remembered the Thanksgiving our family had at the bar. She said, “I sure do; nobody showed up.”
It was a great Thanksgiving for me. I wasn’t under the critical eye of my grandparents. I wasn’t upstaged by my younger cousin who knew one repetitious prayer (I knew all the words to Hank Williams’ Jambalaya), my Dad didn’t have to watch his bad language, my sisters got to do jitterbug, and Mom showed us a few Charleston steps.
I’m sure Mom’s family had a good time, but to this day no one is more thankful than I for having Thanksgiving in a bar: excuse me – beer joint on the seedy side of town.