With the fall came my favorite holiday Thanksgiving. It was the one day that everybody I knew in my young life came together in one place. Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas were the two big events each year that brought our large family together. The rest of the year we would see them, but not all at the same time in the same place.
From the late 1940s until I joined the Army 1961, I spent nearly every Thanksgiving Day in that house surrounded by a very large family. That was from the time I was 6 until I was 17. Even today, almost 60 years later I can still feel the warmth of that house and the aroma of roasting turkey coming from that kitchen.
My grandfather and grandmother had a big house that sat on 16th Street NW in the upper part of Washington D.C. At one time the house had been a convalescent home, which was a forerunner of what nursing homes are today. It’s a good thing the house was so large — my mother was one of nine children. Seven of the nine children came to dinner as did their husbands and children. Twelve children all running around made for a busy house hold at Thanksgiving.
My grandfather Jack was a bear of a man who loved cigars. I never saw him without one. He was so strong that he could pick up nearly anything, I have seen him pick up blocks of ice and sling them over his shoulder. He also cooked Thanksgiving dinner. He had two turkeys roasting and made gravy on the stovetop as several vegetables were simmering.
My grandmother was a strong woman in her own right who, while the turkey was roasting, would hold court with her daughters in the dining room.
The men all congregated in the kitchen, drinking beer (which was stacked outside by the kitchen door) and talking sports. And where they were at during World War II at Thanksgiving time.
We kids had the run of the house. We would play tag and hide-and-seek throughout the house. When the dinner was ready, all the adults gathered in the dining room as my grandfather sliced the first piece of turkey, which always went to grandmother.
The children always ate in the kitchen. After the meal, we would all gather in the living room and help decorate the Christmas tree. Grandfather would go out back and bring the tree in and stand it up in the corner. As we decorated the tree, grandmother would put on different Christmas ornaments and talk about the family members that she got them from.
I was the tinsel man. It was my job to put the tinsel around the tree, and my mother would put on the angel hair which gave the tree a wintry look. And when all the lights, popcorn and other decorations were put on, Grand Dad would turn out the lights and Grandmother would plug in the tree and the radiance of the lights light up the room. And for a moment or two, there was a quietness ... as if each person wanted to remember that moment for a lifetime, and so I have.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!
— James P. Whipple is the Chronicle’s
James P. Whipple