JIM CREES: Thanksgiving memories

“Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.” - E.P. Powell

Thanksgiving Day is one day of the year that inevitably creates memories.

Some are good. Some are bad. All are memories lashed and secured to this one very special day.

Growing up in Detroit, Thanksgiving Day was always a highly anticipated occasion.

We lived in a duplex in a solid middle class neighborhood. My aunt lived upstairs.

The Thanksgiving Day meal was always served upstairs in her place. The cooking, however, always took place downstairs in my mom’s kitchen. This, (I found out much later), always grated on my mom.

My aunt set a nice table, but didn’t do much cooking. My mom worked like an industrial cook turning out a meal for all of us and guests, finally coming to the table somewhat disheveled and worn to a frazzle, while my aunt appeared with every hair in place and impeccably dressed.

I never thought a thing of it until years later.

The only “guests” we had for Thanksgiving Day were my uncle Jack and his “significant other” - Loretta.

I distinctly remember one Thanksgiving Day dinner when I was 12 or 13 years old.

Jack and Loretta pulled up in Jack’s red, big finned Cadillac and strolled up to the house.

Now, it needs to be pointed out that my dad never drank a drop of alcohol. He was a good reform Presbyterian and a life-long teetotaler. No booze. Nothing. Nada. No beer. No wine. No liquor.

Jack, (his twin brother), on the other hand was ...um ...er ...a seriously dedicated drinker. Visiting at our home was a bit of a burden to him.

Coming up the walk to our house, and looking forward to an interminable Thanksgiving Day meal, Jack anticipated a long afternoon with no beer.

As he reached the steps, he tossed the keys of his Caddy to me, (13 years old), and growled, “Go find me some beer, kid.”

I looked down at the keys, thought “Okie Dokie” and started down the steps.

My dad clearing his throat ended that adventure before it started.

In a side note, (not connected to Thanksgiving), I remember driving home from Uncle Jack’s house in Algonac one late summer afternoon following a rare visit to that somewhat mysterious abode.

My mom and dad were in the front seat and us three boys were in the back.

One of my brothers said, “I sure do like Aunt Loretta.”

Without missing a beat, I said, “She’s not our aunt. She’s Uncle Jack’s mistress.”

The last “s” in “mistress” was barely out of my mouth when my mom, in one astonishingly fluid motion, turned and smacked me in the side of the head almost knocking my left ear across and into my right.

“Don’t you ever ...” she warned ominously.

The warning came a little late. I’d already had the side of my noggin knocked inside-out.

Wellllll ...she was his “mistress.”

Sheesh. I got smacked for fibbing, and I got smacked for telling the truth.

I don’t know where I figured out the “mistress” thing. I probably just heard the adults talking at some stage or the other. Who knows?

Still, I just couldn’t win.

Loretta was cool. Her brother was a priest, (I think at St. Rose of Lima), and she always had pretty substantial jugs of liturgical wine stored around the house. I had my first taste of wine in Algonac.

She was a great Polish cook. We would show up at her house and within minutes there would be a seven course meal on the table. It was amazing.

But ...back to Thanksgiving.

I loved Thanksgiving then, and I love Thanksgiving now.

I love the food, the fellowship, the conversation, and the food - except for squash, (which my dad loved, so we had to eat some as well), and the little floaty pieces of liver and giblets in the gravy.

I just hated them.

But my mom had a rule. We had to have at least a taste of everything on the table.

So ...I would take the little floaty pieces of liver out of the gravy, wrap them in a tiny ball of mashed potatoes and swallow them whole in hopes of sneaking them past my taste buds.

It was a challenge, but the plan usually worked.

I loved Thanksgiving and still do.

Lot’s of memories - both here and in American expat celebrations abroad.

It’s really quite amazing. For 25 years living abroad, Americans always somehow managed to gravitate together on Thanksgiving Day.

In a sense, this holiday really defines the American experience.

It did for me then. It did so while we were living outside the U.S. It still is a wonderfully American celebration today.

I hope you all enjoy your’s as much as I expect to enjoy mine.

Now get out and make some memories.