“Come on, girl-squeaks —it’s time to get up for Church!” My dad’s voice brought my sister Angie and me from dreamland to the reality of a Thanksgiving morning. This morning summons was just the beginning of a whole day of set traditions which made my family’s Thanksgiving observance what it was. These special traditions helped make it a day with a special place in our hearts.
Although it was not Sunday and strictly required, my parents invited us to join them for Mass on this special morning; it was considered a fitting gesture of “thanksgiving” on this so-named holiday. A five-minute drive down residential streets and past now-barren trees would bring us to St. Joseph’s Church. Mass would include the singing of well-known songs like “Now Thank We All Our God” and “America the Beautiful.” On the way home, or at some point in the morning, my dad would be sure to stop by our neighboring ponds to “check the ice.” By this time of year, the water would be at least partially frozen, and Dad would see if it was ready to bear full body weight yet.
For Angie and me, the day just wouldn’t be complete without a skirmish over the newspaper. Someone, likely my dad, would retrieve the paper from the small green bin where it had been placed by the deliverer earlier that morning. Each Thanksgiving, the Minneapolis Star Tribune prints a full-page coloring page entitled: “Oh, You Turkey,” the subject of a contest with winners in different age brackets. Even after I exceeded the maximum contestant age, I still enjoyed coloring “Tom” as did my sister although I don’t think either of us ever entered the contest. Angie usually won the battle for this rather-complex outline drawing. Thankfully, my grandpa would supply me with his copy later in the day.
I don’t remember details about breakfast, but I don’t think it was a high priority in light of the coming feast. The “Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade” was on TV, but we could take it or leave it: it wasn’t a necessity for our Turkey Day. One necessity before leaving was preparing the buns. My mom was in charge of supplying these homemade favorites for gatherings with the Neumann family.
It was to be a perennial assumption that my uncle Randy and aunt Jane (my dad’s brother and sister-in-law) would host the meal. We weren’t supposed to even ask; it was taken for granted. My aunt Jane, a Wisconsinite and Green Bay Packer fan, was the excellent hostess year after year. She made her pies in advance and froze them. She didn’t have to peel potatoes that day, either, since she was allergic to them. Consequently, Thanksgiving morning, my uncle and cousins Andrea and Nick were responsible for peeling the spuds for the Neumann crew. This was all done and the turkey long ago in the oven by the time we arrived around midday.
The group gathered would include my paternal grandparents, their four sons, and their families. While waiting for the meal, some family members helped themselves to beverages from the counter island, including various pop and the ingredients for “screwdrivers” (orange juice and vodka). Besides turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, dressing, and corn, we Neumann cousins especially enjoyed the relish trays which garnished the tables on that feast day. Pickles and black olives were the sure way to win a kid’s heart. One year, my aunt Nancy impressed us greatly by bringing along a very large can of black olives.
At the time designated by our hostess, grace was prayed and we enjoyed a delicious meal and time of visiting together. Jane prudently did not serve pie until a while after the main meal. She had a number of options to choose from, like pumpkin, apple, and blueberry. After the dining area was cleared from the many dishes, another table was greatly utilized: the poker table in the basement. For the men, much of the afternoon was spent playing poker for small change and watching football games. Since our aunt Jane was a “Packer backer,” the football discussions could be rather controversial. (The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are archenemies.)
While some watched sporting events, others of us would go out for a long walk. When the weather was nice we had another thing to be thankful for on this day of gratitude. On returning to Randy and Jane’s, our mind’s would turn to the upcoming Christmas season. We were always supposed to bring our Christmas wish lists to share with the aunts and uncles. The ladies in the family enjoyed looking over the numerous ads in the paper for upcoming sales.
By early evening, the poker players / football watchers had developed a little appetite. They would offer their younger relatives tips in exchange for delivering turkey sandwiches (made from leftover poultry on my mom’s homemade buns). By five o’clock, or so, we would load up and head home in our Dodge Caravan. Actually, to be accurate, an exchange was made; my sister Angie would stay behind at Randy and Jane’s and our cousin Nick would come with us to West St. Paul. Angie and Andrea were about the same age and Nick was a little younger. The next morning, Angie and Andrea would enjoy leftover pie for breakfast before the family came to Menard’s in West St. Paul. In conjunction with this Christmas tree-buying expedition, Randy would return the children to their proper families.
One year, Thanksgiving took a little different twist. We cousins had a mock-court case. We accused my cousin Bill of stealing twenty turkeys. My mom was the defense attorney and Angie was the prosecutor. Nick, who was seven at the time, was called to testify and his honesty was questioned. My grandpa, the epitome of wisdom and integrity served as judge and swore witnesses in using a handy dictionary. In preparation for the case, some of us cousins spend a lot of time combing over details of the prosecution. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, so much so that we had a second case at Christmas that year. Poor Bill received sympathy, though, from the jurors, and was acquitted.
It has been some years since I have spent Thanksgiving in Minneapolis, so the details are not all as clear as they once were. However, I am still very grateful for the wonderful times and special memories I have from these traditions. I hope that, throughout the year, not just at Thanksgiving, I can remember often to be grateful, mindful of the exhortation in our Franciscan Rule: “Let them always give thanks to Him from whom we receive all good.” (Third Order Rule, #32)