Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving tradition

I, for one, am steeped in tradition.

There. I said it. As if you didn't already know.

In a few days Thanksgiving will be upon us, followed closely by Christmas, New Year's and the February birthdays, on consecutive days, of my wife and myself. You might could even throw the Super Bowl somewhere in there, making the timeline from Halloween to mid-February something akin to one big endless party.

All of these respites in the calendar represent islands of tradition for me, and none more so than Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Thanksgiving, of course, is turkey, stuffing (that's Yankee for dressing), football rivalries, pumpkin pie, family, L-tryptophan-induced naps and the prelude to Black Friday. And those are just the ones I can think of.

I love this. I grew up on it, as I'm sure most of you did. The neat thing about my childhood is that we had two sets of grandparents within 30 miles of each other. Soooo, on Thanksgiving day, we'd make the short jaunt to Nana and Grandpa Kessler's in Bethlehem, where we'd do some light eating. "Light" in the sense that you didn't gorge yourself, because you knew the big meal was coming later at Nana and Grandpa Wehrle's.

This was in spite of the fact that Nana Kessler was an exceptional old school third generation German cook and baker. She had two cherry trees in her yard, and in the summer, I'd climb them and pick the cherries all day long. She would freeze most of the cherries I picked. The happy end result, of course, were spectacular cherry pies for months afterwards.

As good as she was at Thanksgiving, she positively radiated at Christmas. But that's for another blog.

My mother's family was big, and the house was small. Mom was one of five children, and when the holidays approached, we'd sometime cram 20 to 25 people of our extended family in the little brick house that grandpa tried to build for his bride. He started with what he thought was going to be the two-car garage, but for some reason unclear to me he never got beyond that. Consequently, the garage actually became the house. It was tiny; it was a small building on a huge lot, that in itself an indication of the dream that Grandpa had for the place. The space for cars was quickly converted — while still on the drawing board, I presume — into a living room, kitchen, dining area and two bedrooms and a bathroom.

He did have a basement where he kept his lathe and other tools, and it's where he crafted, by hand, his own violins and mandolins, among other things. He was very creative in that he was a tool inventor for Bethlehem Steel (which, of course, owned his patents, otherwise I'd be writing these blogs from my yacht in the Cayman Islands). A literate man, Harry relaxed by reading Mark Twain. Not surprisingly, his uncompleted memoir reads a lot like Samuel Clemens.

I sometimes wonder if whatever writing ability I have filtered down the gene pool from him.

Anyway, after a couple of hours at the Kesslers, we'd hop in the car for the short jaunt to Allentown. The Wehrles were the complete opposites of the Kesslers. Dad was an only child and Nana and Grandpa Wehrle lived, at various times, in spacious two-story row homes. Nana Wehrle was a pretty good cook herself — not so much the baker — but we knew something special waited for us.

I remember that even though we were practically bloated from the Kessler light lunch, the first thing my brother and I did when we got to the Wehrles was race for the cookie jar in the pantry and reach inside for a treat, quickly accompanied by some adult's admonition, "Don't eat that now or you'll spoil your dinner."

Too late. One year, Nana thought she teach us a lesson. David, my younger brother, beat me to the cookie jar, reached in — and put his hand into a jar full of water. What the.... I often wonder if my sense of humor filtered through the gene pool from her. She once dumped a bowl of rice pudding on my father's head, like some TV comedy, after he kept goading her about something.

But the Thanksgiving meals were always a success. Huge slices of turkey, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, various vegetables and two or three different kinds of pies, one or two of which I'm sure we brought over from the Kesslers. We probably weren't even hungry, but we feasted anyway.

I guess that's a big part of what Thanksgiving is about. Not so much the food...but the family.

As it should be. Traditionally.

No comments:

Post a Comment