Thanksgiving: Memories of things past

Thanksgiving: Memories of things past
Photo: Chicago Tribune

Thanksgiving was feast time in our family. We would gather in our home or the home of an aunt and uncle. There would be turkey, pans of dressing, vegetables, ham, sometimes lasagna. It seemed the food was never ending.

Eating, drinking, washing up, eating some more. Then football on T.V. or maybe the kids would go play at a park down the street. Then, later, more eating, a second helping. Finally desserts. Homemade cookies and pumpkin pie, fruit plates, and other sweets.

The adults drank puccino, strong black coffee laced with Cognac or V.O. and a twist of lemon.

Year after year the families toiled from starting the night before and early Thanksgiving morning to make that perfect feast. Days were spent scouring the city for all the ingredients.

There was a lot of warmth and love spread on those Thanksgiving Days. The folks would talk about how poor they were during the Depression, how hard their parents worked in the factories or small businesses they owned. They would remember how people bonded together to help each other.

They would talk about the characters of their childhoods, like the man who worked in the ice cream factory. Once a week he brought small containers of ice cream to hand out to the neighborhood kids. Or the old guy who would watch the kids play in the streets while smoking what was left of his cigar in a pipe.

The dads would reminisce about the war. The exotic places they were stationed, New Zealand, New Guinea, or New Caledonia, or Australia.

This went on, year after year, decade after decade, until the kids got older, people started dying, and we all separated due to jobs, college, or other travels and travails.


Photo: P.V. Bella

There are other Thanksgiving memories. For almost 30 years, working on the Chicago Police Department, I worked most Thanksgiving Days. Usually the Third Watch, the afternoon shift. By the time we hit the street, it was getting busy.

Thanksgiving is a time when families get together. Unfortunately, it is also a time of family disturbances, some of them violent.

Fights over food turn into stabbings, with forks or knives. The ubiquitous body impaled with a knife or serving fork, clutching a drumstick, was more common than myth.

Too much drinking before dinner led to brutal fights at the dinner table. It was something to walk into a home and see Thanksgiving dinner spread out all over the floor mixed in with broken china and other detritus.

In the early 1980s, we handled a disturbance call as soon as we hit the street. It was a few blocks from the station. We pulled up the same time as the paramedics. A woman was yelling for us to hurry from a second floor window. We asked her what the problem was. She just kept yelling for us to hurry.

Finally, we told her the paramedics needed to know what to bring up. She yelled back, "He shot himself you a@# holes". We rushed up the stairs and walked into the apartment. The table was set, the turkey, partially carved, was in the middle with all the trimmings. Two kids sat quietly in front of their plates, staring wide eyed. "He" was face down on the table, bleeding from the head, clutching a gun.

The woman told us they sat down to eat and after saying grace, He wanted to play Russian Roulette before eating. She said he usually did that after drinking too much. Guess this time he lost. It was really hard not to laugh.

The rest of the day was spent filling out reports, making dark jokes, waiting for the crime scene guys and detectives, and then, finally dinner. Cold turkey, dressing, and ham left over from a restaurant that delivered to the station every year.

There were other Thanksgivings with similar outcomes. Later in the day, after people ate, the men would amble over to the taverns. Inevitably, fights would break out. Tavern fights are bad enough. They are even worse and comical, when people who have been drinking all day decide to drink even more.

There were others who worked all those Thanksgiving Days. Firemen, paramedics, E.R. doctors and nurses, emergency utility company crews, and other emergency service workers. All pitching in to save lives, property, or keep the lights, heat, and water on.

There are the bus drivers, El engineers, and cabbies working to get people from one place to another. Airports and train stations do not shut down for thanksgiving either.

All these people working on the one holiday we give thanks for what we have.  All of them doing good work. They are there, at your service.

There are many things to be grateful for in this journey of life to death. I am always grateful for those who give up their holiday to serve.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Oh, and if you dine out for your feast, leave a little heftier tip for the staff. They are working their holiday so you can enjoy it.


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