Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

parade prep
On this eve of Thanksgiving, my thoughts center on recollections of my traditional multiple-hour, exhausting drive to New York City for the holiday. It began in 1979 while I was living in North Conway, NH, the normally six and a half hour drive would usually take about seven or more hours, and on this evening in November, the traffic always is outrageous. I can remember some trips in the 8-9 hour range, sitting in traffic jams in Massachusetts and Connecticut, waiting in line for an hour to get across the Whitestone Bridge.

One year, I had to attend a meeting up “above the notch” – Pinkham Notch, that is - on Turkey Day eve. I chose to leave for New York directly from the meeting taking a route that would bring me over more mountains and into the snowy upper Connecticut River valley. Driving down US 2 to I-91, ambling between the border of New Hampshire and Vermont, I recall with fondness the image of a group of young school children waving goodbye to their teachers as their school bus left some small rural Vermont schoolyard. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a more tender scene.

During the next few years I lived in southern Maine and the trip was slightly easier since I lived close to the Interstate and did not have to begin and end my journey with a 60-mile drive through the narrow, dark, winding roads of the New Hampshire countryside. That annual trip lasted for about ten years and then one memorable Thanksgiving I made the annual trip to NYC from Indiana, Pennsylvania. That eight-hour event was made more memorable by the sudden development of a choking, acrid, smoky smell inundating my car as I approached the George Washington Bridge on I-80. I would discover, three days and $300 later that the smell was due to the accumulation of pine needles collected inside the heater core that had wrapped around the heater fan. I was assured by the Mazda dealer that the there was at no time any danger of fire being caused by the pine needles. This provided little comfort to my pocketbook.

The annual Thanksgiving sojourn to New York City was always a cause for family celebration. I would often be greeted like the Prodigal Son, winning the prize every year as the relative who had traveled the longest to join the family. Every family member would ask if we’d “had any snow” yet, and marvel at the thought - and insanity - of spending eight hours alone in the car.

For a number of years the Thanksgiving Eve celebration required a trip down to Northern Boulevard to visit one of the local drinking establishments and a round of beers and an early bit of turkey tasting. The Little Neck Tavern, legendary for its pre-Thanksgiving, turkey-with-all-the-fixing event was a magnet for local drunks and the college-age crowd home for the holiday. By the time I'd arrive there was often little left but turkey sandwiches; but boy were they good.

In the later years, Turkey Day Eve usually meant just sitting around the house with family and friends getting up-to-date on local happenings and trivia. I remember countless times watching the evening news replete with live reports from Central Park West where the Macy’s Day Parade balloons were being inflated. Yes, I said “Macy’s Day” as that was what it was called in the good old days. Somehow, Mr. Macy apparently believed that his store was more important than the Thanksgiving holiday (a fact confirmed by Wikipedia!). Usually it was Al Roker reporting from in front of the Museum of Natural History with the up-to-the-minute drama and weather forecast. Countless New Yorkers, some with small children, would wave and gawk at the rising balloons – and TV cameras - as one of the more banal and bothersome parts of the New York City Thanksgiving tradition.

My annual drive to New York ended sometime in the early 2000’s. My father’s death in 1996 and stepmother’s slow mental decline brought on by the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease made the trips to New York more painful. Eventually I stopped going altogether.

For a few years I tried something different. One year, my sister and I decided to meet half way - in Sturbridge, Massachusetts - to celebrate Thanksgiving Pilgrim-style. It was nice. . .different. But we ended up only doing it once. The restaurant where we had Thanksgiving dinner served turkey roll instead of the real thing. Pretty disappointing.

The next year, I convinced my sister that Thanksgiving in Maine was the way to celebrate. She dutifully drove up from New Jersey on a dark cold Thanksgiving Eve night after having spent the day teaching kindergarteners. She was not happy with the experience and declined the offer to do it again. Somehow it was okay for me to drive 6-10 hours to see family, but…well, I don’t want to complain.

In 2003, the tradition changed completely. My stepmother had died and I decided to stay home in Maine for Thanksgiving Day. The new Turkey Day Eve tradition now involves watching the local Channel 6 sportscaster Bruce Glazier providing his report and rebroadcast of newsreels and home movies highlighting the annual Deering/Portland HS football game played in Portland for almost a century. The black and white production is meaningless to me personally, but does represent things that are obviously important to the local gentry.

Tomorrow morning I will gather myself in front of the living room and watch the Macy’s Day Parade with the gang from NBC’s Today Show. Al Roker will be there and I’ll drink my coffee and wait for Santa to arrive. In the afternoon, I’ll watch some football and spend the evening dining with my friends, Bob and Gail, savoring free-range turkey and organically grown veggies from Gail’s garden. We’ll top it off with my Swedish Apple Pie and maybe something special this year made with pumpkins. All will be yummy.

I will give thanks for good health and friendships, to family present and past, to old memories and the promise of the future.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Gobble gobble.

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