Randy Seaver’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun topic this week is, not surprisingly, about Thanksgiving memories.
Like Randy, for having celebrated as many Thanksgivings as I have, I have very, very few memories of any particular year. I do know that I have eaten Thanksgiving dinner away from home so few times that I can count them on my fingers and have most of my fingers left over.
I also know that we never, ever had anything on the table that didn’t conform to traditional Thanksgiving menus. There was always a big roasted turkey, complete with lots of yummy mashed potatoes, stuffing (my maternal Grandmother’s recipe that had no chunks of onion, which made me very happy), green beans and carrots, bread of some sort and lots of thick turkey graving, to be liberally applied to every bit of food on the plate. There were also various salads added into the main menu.
During the day, as the turkey was cooking in the oven, the television was always on because the day began by watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Growing up in New Jersey, this was just a “must do.” However, for kids, the best part of the parade happened at the end – Santa Claus made his appearance and that signaled the start of the Christmas season.
That was pretty much Thanksgiving as I remember it, with the very notable exception of 28 November 1968. Thanksgiving was late that year and it was doubly unusual because I had been out of school for about a week AND I was in Massachusetts with my mother, staying at my grandparents’ house.
My grandmother had phoned us in early November to tell us that the doctors believed my grandfather had had a stroke. However, he had remained hospitalized afterwards and seemed to be getting weaker and more debilitated with each day. Doctors were unsure what was going on and my mother wanted to see Grandfather and be there to help Grandmother. I was sixteen at the time and a good student, so Mom decided that I should travel with her. I could easily make up any work I missed and I was plenty old enough to help my Grandmother out if more hands were needed.
I think we drove to Massachusetts the weekend before Thanksgiving as I returned to school the second week in December and I had missed about two weeks of classes.
As Thanksgiving approached, my Grandmother, who usually hosted the family holidays for relatives living close by in Massachusetts, decided for good reason that she was unable to do all the preparation that year. However, she also didn’t want to not have a Thanksgiving meal. Her solution was to eat out at a historic inn.
I tried to remember exactly where we went as I only remember driving for about an hour, walking into the inn on a dark, chilly evening to be greeted by a warm fire in the fireplace and eating a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner with all the traditional trimmings.
Thanks to the internet, I did a bit of searching and found the Publick House in Sturbridge and I am quite certain that that is the restaurant where Grandmother, Aunt Barbara, Mom and I ate dinner that night. The restaurant and especially the dining room and great fireplace match my memories of that evening.
It was quite magical and, to this day, I remember feeling like I had stepped back into time. Being in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, I almost expected the Mayflower Pilgrims to be seated next to us.
Aside from the enjoyment of the Thanksgiving setting, the meal itself was a bit somber because of Grandfather’s illness. My immediate family was quite small – twelve of us and that was a stretch, as it included my great grand aunt and first cousin twice removed. Grandfather was to be the first family member to whom I said goodbye in my sixteen years of life.
Grandfather survived another nine days after Thanksgiving and the doctors still weren’t sure what was happening. They thought he might be having multiple small strokes, but that turned out to not be the case. Grandfather died on 7 December 1968, Pearl Harbor Day and Grandmother wanted to know what had caused such a precipitous decline in his health and well being in such a short period of time.
An autopsy provided the surprising answer – Grandfather died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. It is a degenerative, always fatal brain disease similar to what later emerged as Mad Cow Disease. In 1968, Grandfather was only the third diagnosed case of CJD in the 20th century. He was a World War I Navy veteran and Navy doctors came to interview my grandmother in the months after Grandfather passed away. So little was known about the disease and they felt she could help provide information about the onset of symptoms and his decline in a very short three months’ time.
So – my only memory of any particular Thanksgiving dinner is tinged with a lot of sadness along with a walk back into time at an old historic Massachusetts inn.
Images from the Publick House website: http://www.publickhouse.com/accommodations/publick-house-historic-inn