My mom’s extended Aubert has held a pre-Thanksgiving meal on the Sunday before the holiday for as long as I can remember. It included aunts, uncles, in-laws and outlaws, my dad would say. Cousins were there too.
The first dinner I remember was in 1963, but it wasn’t because of the actual dinner.
My Aunt Thelma organized the early dinners, which eventually were held at the American Legion/Odd Fellows Hall in Hedrick, Iowa. I am sure the first ones were at here house in Farson but the most memorable ones were in Hedrick.
In 1963, Dad bought me a transistor radio at the Iowa State Fair. That was a big deal to an 8-year-old kid. Since I was generally relegated to the backseat of our 1962 Buick LeSabre, I took the radio to listen to music it gave me something to pass the time while Mom and Dad were talking about adult stuff. However on this day my parents were talking about recent events. I was listening to them and the radio at the same time — and not doing very well at either endeavor.
We usually left home around 10 a.m. to get to Hedrick just before noon. The date was November 24, 1963. It was two days after President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The previous Friday and that particular Sunday were two of those where-were you-when-days for me.
It was a little after 11 a.m. when the music on my transistor radio was interrupted with a news flash. Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot. I told Mom and Dad, both of whom were stunned. Dad tuned in the car radio to WHO. As we drove on mostly in stunned silence, more and more details were delivered. The events of those past two days were the main topics of conversations at that year’s family Thanksgiving dinner.
Other than the outside world events, we all enjoyed those family dinners. Us kids, all cousins for the most part, would find various things to do, usually running in and out of the Hall and being admonished by an adult for doing so. During warm days we might have a water balloon fight. On snowy days, it was snowball fights. One warm year there were still tons of walnuts on the ground out back of the Legion Hall. Someone got the bright idea we should have a walnut war. That lasted about 30 seconds until walnuts started finding their targets. Even Neanderthals know getting hit by a green walnut hurts.
The snowball, walnut, balloon wars usually took part before the dinner. Dinner itself lasted 30-45 minutes for the adults. For us kids it was maybe 10-15 minutes because we had war business to finish. However, our interest soon waned, and we all counted the minutes until we could walk to the Hedrick roller skating rink.
It took us longer to get organized to leave than it did to walk there. First we had to negotiate the right amount of money from our parents. Then older cousins would make sure the younger cousins were watched after and we would head in a gaggle to the skating rink.
It was inside a large round topped building. We would show up in mass. Remember this is a small town and everyone knows what is going on. I really think the owners only opened the rink on those Sundays because they knew they would have a ready-made crowd — as many as 15 of us all wanting to roller skate.
They opened at 1 p.m. and we usually skated for an hour to an hour and a half. The adults were back at the Legion Hall playing cribbage, talking and catching up with each other.
One of the events of the dinner was an auction. The proceeds from the auction offset the cost of the Legion Hall rental. Any leftover funds were then donated to a local charity or church.
Many things about the way the dinner is done have not changed in the 60 plus years. That is a testament to our parents. We were raised believing family and community, even an extended one, has a crucial role in one’s life.
Obviously, many of the founding relatives are no longer with us. Now all the cousins that attended all those previous years maintain the tradition. It is a somewhat bittersweet day as we remember those who have gone before us, those who are still here, and those new to the family.
The location has changed over the years, but we still manage to find a place that will allow us to get together in one place. What has not changed, however, is the auction and the annual donation to a charity. I can’t tell you how much has been donated to local food pantries, charities, and churches in the past 60 plus years. While not large in the grand scheme of things, we do know it has helped countless families that started as this family did.
From a hardscrabble coal miner grandfather and a homemaking grandmother sprang this family. My mother, aunts and uncles were taught to be thankful for what they had, and sometimes during the Great Depression that was not much. As sibling families grew, the life lessons learned nearly 100 years ago are with us today. Be thankful to the Lord for what you have and share your bounty with others. Happy Thanksgiving.