This Thanksgiving may have some nontraditional elements to it, like face masks, or as I am referring to them this year, “gravy strainers.” Maybe your clan doesn’t gather together in the numbers it usually does, or maybe you don’t hang out all afternoon long watching football as you drowse from the Thanksgiving meal. I’m thinking it’s a good time to look back at some Thanksgiving memories of times past to boost the “warm and fuzzy” feeling of the season.

An epic mural

The buildup to Thanksgiving at school included history lessons on the Pilgrims and their story. We learned they came to the New World of North America primarily for religious freedom since they were Protestants and not part of the Church of England.

We learned the ship they came over on was the Mayflower, which brings up the old joke “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Answer: Pilgrims!”

One of my favorite projects back then was a bulletin board we decorated by drawing pictures of Pilgrims, Indians, the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock and colonial houses and then cutting them out and putting them up in an epic mural. It was great looking at one wall of the classroom and seeing the whole story illustrated by us kiddies. It was a great way to learn. We even got a kick out of the love story involving John Alden, Priscilla Mullins and Miles Standish and learned a life lesson from it as well.

In case you need a little reminder, Alden wanted to marry Priscilla but so did Miles. Miles Standish was shy around women and so asked Alden to ask for him. She said, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” Evidently she was interested in Alden herself. Everyone put things on pause until they got word Miles had been killed off in battle somewhere in the wilderness. Alden and Priscilla married and who should show up alive but Miles! He gave his blessings to them, married a woman named Barbara that came over on a later voyage to the colony and the two families became and remained friends.

A warm-up

As a kid, the best thing about Thanksgiving was that you got a few days off from school. I was usually in a “down” state from the crash of the Halloween candy being finished. On the other hand, there was the excitement of looking forward to the winter holidays as the calendar moved toward Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year.

Thanksgiving was like a warm-up for the longer holiday to come. The relief of getting up on a weekday and not having to rush through the morning drill to get to school was such a relief. And I could watch weekday morning cartoons that I usually never got to see.

It was also great on a Wednesday or Thursday night to not have any homework to do for the next day. Any homework assignments for the Thanksgiving break could be put off until Sunday night! I always hated homework and thought it wasn’t fair that I had to keep working when I wasn’t actually at school. I always thought it must be great to be an adult and never have homework at home after work (boy, was I mistaken!).

A free-for-all of fun

I remember going to school on the first three days of the week and then getting the old reprieve on Wednesday about 3:10. Then the other days were a free-for-all of fun. There wasn’t much of a Black Friday then, so Friday was a day of R&R (rest and recreation), or actually more like G&G (goofing and goofing-off).

Obviously, Thanksgiving Day was scheduled out, and Sunday was church and lunch at grandmother’s (which is where we’d have Thanksgiving lunch), but the other times were pretty open. If the weather was nice, there was neighborhood play, especially pickup yard games of football since that was the season. If only two or three kids showed up we might shoot baskets until enough gathered for a football quorum of four or more.

A microcosm of the NFL

Regarding the neighborhood fun and games, there was a variety of kids coming and going from even the farthest ends of the neighborhood. As kids, you aren’t that strong, and your bones are still rubbery, and so we played tackle football. I don’t remember anybody getting hurt too badly. I do remember people running across the yard and stepping in dog poo, though.

Most everybody had a yard, so there were plenty of places where the games were held. We all knew the boundaries; for example, a certain tree was the out of bounds, a telephone pole might be the end zone and a corner of the house was another boundary. The players came and went over the course of the game as different kids had to go home to eat and others had finished and replaced them. It was a microcosm of the real NFL with trades and on the road games, with backyard home field advantages.

Pleasures from raking leaves

Sometimes there was leaf raking on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, although we didn’t have too many leaves in our yard. The trees around my house were mainly pines and magnolias which are evergreens, so most of my leaf raking occurred at other people’s houses.

There’s two great pleasures that come with the hard work of raking. The first was to rake the leaves up on a sheet (cheap tarps weren’t around then), then dragging the leaves to a singular pile on the edge of the yard. After the work was done, hopefully by many hands or at least by enthusiastic kids that knew what was coming next, the leaves were piled up in an ever growing tower and, finally, when the yard was reasonably clean, we’d get out a ladder, set it up next to the pile and jump!

The other great option was to drag the leaves and make a line along the edge of the road, maybe in the ditch, and then set it on fire! The good thing about this is you could start burning the leaves before you were finished raking, so you knew each new pile was just going to make that much more fire and smoke. That’s a smell you don’t get as much these days.

A blessed moment

Thanksgiving Day itself had its own traditional schedule at our house. I liked to stay in bed until it was time for me to be at school and then I’d get up in my pajamas and move in front of the TV. It seemed fitting somehow. The Macy’s parade would be on and I always got a kick out of the floats and giant balloons. As a little kid I would always watch to see if one of the balloons would just start rising and carry all the people holding the ropes up in the air. There were usually some celebrities as well, like Captain Kangaroo.

I would have a small breakfast so I didn’t spoil my appetite for lunch. I might just have a Pop-Tart, or we had those little packets of instant breakfast chocolate shakes that I could sip on while the parade passed me by.

Probably around 11 it was time to get dressed. Mom wanted me to look halfway decent for the family so I might end up wearing corduroy pants and a plaid shirt. I’d still wear my tennis shoes, though, because at the family get-togethers there was time for lots of playing.

I’d dress quickly so I could keep an eye on the parade. And after hurrying to get dressed, then it was waiting for my parents to get ready and my mom to get whatever it was she cooked for the dinner.

If it was a “proper’ Thanksgiving Day it would be cool out and maybe partly cloudy. And yes, we did drive over a river (well, a creek) and past some woods on the way to grandmother’s house.

The family would get there and the house smelled great. Any memories of breakfast were soon gone with the sight of the table piling up with food. Me and cousins would goof off and greet all the older aunts and uncles and grandparents. Each person you hugged had that particular scent you knew them for. With my grandfather it was Old Spice, with one of my aunts it was that perfume she used, and with one of the uncles it was a scent kind of like machine oil.

At the meal there was a pretty serious blessing, as we had the family gathered around and everyone (most years) was healthy. Let’s face it, we worry about an awful lot, but if we took the ongoing task of being grateful for all the good things we have going on in our lives, even if it’s just memories of better times, it would take the sting out of the here and now hassles of everyday life. When the amen was said and you looked up at a table with food on it surrounding a turkey and the smiling faces of people that loved you, you knew it was a blessed moment. One to be cherished and remembered.

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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