Thanksgiving 1932

We are at my Aunt Winnie’s on Itaska and Pennsylvania Avenue, or so I’m told. Everyone else that was there is dead, so this list is based on what I heard from serious drinkers in years past. Don’t hold it to be accurate.

There was a picture of this gathering taken with my cousin Jimmy’s Kodak box camera. Nobody knows what happened to it.

I’m told it was unusually warm, and there was no snow. Eight Devines, four Bradys and six Mortons were there. Winnie used both table extensions, first time since one of my grandmothers died.

The turkey was donated to my cousin Bill Brady by the Democratic ward boss he had helped get elected. Bill was a teller at the Mississippi Valley Trust bank. He later became a vice president.

I am 2 months, 2 weeks old. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had just been elected, the British had thrown Mahatma Gandhi in jail, and we had done the same with Al Capone.

Someone at the end of the table read an item from the St. Louis Post Dispatch that said people in Russia were starving to death.

My Uncle Pete reportedly replied, “So am I, let’s eat.”

My mother is holding me on her lap, and everyone wants to hold me, so I am passed around with the sweet potatoes.

It’s the belly of the Great Depression, and everyone is thankful for each bite.

Thanksgiving 1941

It’s the first Thanksgiving since my father died in March, so the atmosphere is a bit like Skeeter O’Neal’s saloon had burned down. We are dining at Winnie’s again, and only one table divider is used. This I know because I helped put it in.

Harry, my father’s first son by his regrettable first marriage, is here. My mother, who never liked him, won’t sit next to him, because he’s been drinking as usual and has razor cuts on his face. He asks Uncle Pete, “Is Skeeter’s open on Thanksgiving?” and then leaves.

My sisters and their husbands are there and two of my three brothers. Bud, the oldest, joined the Navy and hasn’t been home for holidays since his girlfriend, Carmen Menendez, married a St. Louis Browns’ ball player.

Today he is stationed in Hawaii at a place we had to look up on the map: Pearl Harbor, an obscure location that will soon be easier to locate.

Thanksgiving 1945

It’s snowing. All four brothers and six cousins are at sea in the South Pacific. Mom is thankful that Bud survived Pearl, but with little news from the others, no one in the family is interested in a festive dinner. Mom takes my baby sister and me to a Chinese restaurant. I remember the neon sign: CHOP SUEY.

Thanksgiving 1952

Louisiana Tech, Ruston, Louisiana.

After eight weeks in the desert in Texas, the Air Force has sent me and 10 others to clerical school to learn to type, meet girls, defend the borders between Louisiana and Arkansas and memorize classified military correspondence.

“Scoop” Larkin, son of a newspaper editor from Mattoon, Illinois, who always keeps a hip bottle of booze in his locker, and I have been here since September. Having fallen in love with two gorgeous Kappa Delta girls, we decided not to go home for Thanksgiving and instead dine with them. Pass the grits.

Thanksgiving 1953

Fuchu, Japan.

“Big” Tiny Little, who would one day become a Las Vegas lounge pianist, entertains at the dining hall turkey dinner. Scoop and I pass on this and instead take the train into Tokyo to dine at a German restaurant on the Ginza with, serendipitously, two Danish Red Cross ladies. While we dine, we have our picture taken by the roving photographer, an older man with a limp and bad tic whom, we learn, was a German officer in the last war. And you wonder where they get those ideas for movies.

There were others through the years, some too sad to recall.

San Francisco 1954. Having arrived from the Far East still in uniform a day before Thanksgiving, I was given a free meal by the owners of the Top of the Mark above the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Thank you

Working in New York at several hotels through two or three Thanksgivings, I dined at a Walgreens Drug Counter, Chock Full of Nuts, Dominic’s Italian Restaurant, House of Chan, Pisciotto’s Grotto, the late Broadway star Jeanne Bal’s nice apartment on East 78th and with Joya Feldman’s family on Avenue M in Brooklyn. That one might have been a seder. I was there often.

Every year since 1984 here in Waterville, I have spent Thanksgiving with good Lebanese friends and She, who has, for 57 years, with Jesus’ help, saved my Thanksgivings, my heart and tattered soul.

Happy Thanksgiving. See you next year?

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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