WILKES-BARRE — On Thanksgiving 2017, I wonder if we all really get what the big day and celebration is all about.
Some say it all began as a celebration of the great harvest, while others say it was an event that marked the Pilgrims survival in America. Whatever the “real meaning” of Thanksgiving is or was, let’s agree that today truly is a day of giving thanks.
That’s the way we always celebrated Thanksgiving in our house in Plymouth. We would all gather around the table, hold hands, say a prayer and at the end, we would express thanks for all we had and all that was provided.
For us kids, Thanksgiving meant several good things — a football game at Huber Field against arch rival Nanticoke, a huge meal with all the trimmings, and the realization that November was almost over and December was near, which meant Christmas and Santa Claus were just around the corner.
And on that Friday after Thanksgiving, my dad would take my mom and I across the Carey Avenue Bridge to The Last Chance — a small outdoor business that sold vegetables and fruit during the summer and Christmas trees and wreaths in winter. My dad would ask me to walk through the rows of trees to find one that looked good. We always ended up with a Douglas fir, mostly because my mom loved those trees for their appearance and aroma, and they kept their needles longer than most other species.
So after dad would negotiate an acceptable price with the owner, we would tie it to the top of the car and head back home. We would carry the tree into the house and mount it in a tree stand that had ample space for water.
From here, dad would string the lights, and mom and I would decorate the tree, the last step putting on strings of Icicles. The magic moment was when we would turn out the lights in the front room and dad would plug the tree lights in, and we would step back and admire our work.
This was a ritual practiced throughout the neighborhood. It was a really big deal. We would spend Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend going house to house to see every family’s trees. And there was no jealousy — every decorated tree was beautiful, and there was always time to stop and chat as us kids fidgeted because we just wanted to get home and maybe go sledding down Reynolds Street or Nottingham Street.
These were times filled with traditions. First of all, my mom’s Thanksgiving meal was second to none. Her turkey was perfect. And I still long for a slice of one of her juicy, glazed baked hams. I can still taste her cole slaw and her mashed potatoes and gravy and oh, her vegetable beef soup with homemade noodles was the best. And she could bake too. Apple pie, cakes, cookies, my mom could do it all. Her Christmas cookies were decorated so precisely that people were reluctant to eat them, despite being delicious. Mom’s detailed decorating of reindeer, Santas, Christmas trees, and more was remarkable.
Family life was somewhat different back then than it is today. We ate meals together every night, around our table, and we talked about our day and we enjoyed the food and the conversation. We often had guests for dinner. And sometimes we went to their houses.
At every meal, we gave thanks. My family continues this practice today. Yes, we like to watch football, although those rivalry games are long gone. And we enjoy a stimulating conversation. And the food is always delicious.
Back in the day, as Thanksgiving winded down, Christmas would approach. My mom and I would make homemade garland to hang in our doorway. Red and green construction paper, cut into strips and taped together. Red and green, just like the Christmas lights on Main Street, our house and our town became a Christmas wonderland.
It would all come down to Christmas Eve. Kids would get to bed early to wait for Santa to arrive. We would always wake up early and run into the living room to see that big, beautiful tree on a platform with a Lionel train circling beneath. A Plasticville village would feature a gas station, a motel and a church, an ice skating pond, plus people on benches and streets with tiny cars. Around the perimeter would be presents everywhere, just waiting to be ripped open and enjoyed.
The world is a different place today, but remembering our past and continuing those traditions makes us want to give thanks every day.
Happy Thanksgiving all.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected] This column also appeared in the Times Leader’s Distinctive Holiday Entertaining guide.