Childhood Thanksgiving Memories

Norman-Rockwell_Freedom-from-Want

I wrote this two years ago and I thought that it bears repeating.

I get nostalgic this time of year. I may live in Northern California where we barely have seasons – I think we may have two or three – but I grew up in western New York where we had all four in abundance. This year, 2017, seemed to feature the never-ending summer. Fall didn’t arrive until damn near Halloween.

Christmas creep, as much as I despise it and as bad at it has gotten, has me thinking about how things used to be.

I grew up thinking my Aunt Carole’s (my father’s only sibling) house was out in the country. The drive out to Scottsville, N.Y., seemed to take forever. It was picturesque as we drove past the horse farms that lined the road along the scenic route. For some reason I always took note of the rambling white fences that paralleled the road. As mom, dad and I approached the turn off, empty fields and barns dotted the landscape. The topography, architecture and open spaces cried country.

The house had once belonged to my grandparents, whom I never knew. My father’s father died in 1959, and my grandmother passed away in 1966, three years before I was born. My grandmother bequeathed the house to her two children – my father and his sister. I don’t know the whole story but Dad didn’t want to live in the house, my aunt ended up with it and lived in it with her husband, my Uncle Freddy, for the better part of her life.

The driveway wasn’t paved. A basketball hoop that hadn’t felt the touch of a net in years was loosely attached to the front of the rickety detached garage. There was well water. Eventually a pack of the meanest shepherd mix dogs I’ve ever known took up residence in that garage and adjacent fenced-in yard. You had to walk up a small embankment to get to the well-worn path to the house. I say path because the sidewalk that led away from the house went straight out to the road and had nothing for you if you were coming from the driveway.

This was my Aunt's house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house.
This was my Aunt’s house. It was built in 1906 and belonged to my grandparents. I spent many Thanksgivings in this house. This photo is a Google Maps street view from 2012.

My parents and I would carry our dishes to pass, mostly my parents carried them, and I was a lazy ass who couldn’t be bothered with such things as a child. Aside from pies, the only dish I remember Mom making was a sweet dressing made with prunes and apples. Mom made a great pie crust, however, her apple pie filling left a little to be desired. Apple pie filling isn’t supposed to be gray, is it? Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it just could have been better. My aunt made a great apple pie filling that looked the part, golden honey. One year Mom and Aunt Carole combined forces…oh, man, was that a pie. I am partial to apple pie. I hate pumpkin pie, absolutely hate it.

More on pie later.

We had a rather old-fashioned, misogynistic (almost chauvinistic) kind of Thanksgiving, my four first cousins and I. My aunt and her three daughters – Tammy, Debbie and Shari – toiled in the kitchen with a little help from Mom, as we menfolk settled in for a day of feasting and football watching. Aunt Carole would tend to the bird, which I am sure routinely tipped the scales at 22 pounds or more. I don’t remember much of what the oldest, David, did while all of this was going on, I just remember what it was like when he was of working age. School friends, later boyfriends and girlfriends, then husbands/wives, and kids would join us for dinner.

My father, my uncle, my cousin David, my mom and I (and later other invited guests), eagerly awaited the feasting while watching the Detroit Lions in their annual Thanksgiving match-up. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade had already been watched at one house or the other. For whatever reason, I always seemed to root for the Lions no matter who they played. I still do.

I was a finicky eater as a child. And to this day, there are certain Thanksgiving staples I don’t like. I won’t touch cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes (yams) or squash. Just give me turkey, mashed potatoes with butter, salad, soft fresh rolls, and mom’s sweet dressing and I was a happy boy. David would pile his plate a mile high at least three times. The army of cats would benefit from the leftovers.

Then there was pie. Apple. Mincemeat. Lemon meringue. Key Lime. Pumpkin. Oh boy, was there pie.

Eventually, we’d settle down and watch the Lions, and maybe we’d catch some of the Dallas Cowboys game, have more turkey or pie. I never knew the Cowboys game was much of a Thanksgiving tradition – I would learn later that this was a mistaken belief. My cousins and I sometimes ended the day with board games. If I was feeling adventurous, and the ground was covered with snow, I’d go sledding in the dark and careen through the scrub brush.

We’d have as few as eight or nine, and as many damn near 20 for Thanksgiving dinner. As I got older, many of us took up smoking as a habit and we’d crowd on the enclosed porch (healthy) if it was too cold to go smoke outside.

The house itself had a distinct aroma, it was charming in some parts, dilapidated in others. It always seemed to be organized chaos. It certainly had something after the wood-burning stove was installed in the living room. Sometimes it felt like a sauna, even in the dead of winter. If it got cold, my uncle would just throw another piece of wood in.

All four parents are gone now. All that’s left of those Thanksgivings are memories. We didn’t take many photos of those events, despite my father’s shutterbug tendencies. I couldn’t find any pictures of Thanksgivings past. There could be slides somewhere, I’m still a little bit of a lazy ass. Maybe my cousins have some.

We weren’t rich people – far from it. We certainly were not the embodiment of the Norman Rockwell painting. But we did it this way every year with very few exceptions. I was in the Navy for 10 years, so I missed some. But when I did get back and attend, it was like I had never left.

Say what you want about what we did or how we did it. These were our Thanksgivings. We enjoyed them and each other.

The Expressway exit off 390 South.
The Expressway exit off 390 South.

I reset the trip-o-meter on a drive from my parents’ last house to my aunt’s house once. I had to know. I had driven out there a few times on my own as an adult. I still thought of it as the “country.” As I got older, it became less and less rural and more and more suburban. To me, that’s the saddest part aside from the dissolution of the get-togethers altogether.

Nine miles. An online driving directions site says just over 13. Not quite over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

You know what? I’ll always remember it as a drive in the country to Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house. Those fences and those horse farms will always line Route 31, that barn a few hundred yards from the corner of Scottsville Road and Chili Wheatland Town Line Road, will always signal the turn.

These were our Thanksgivings and I wouldn’t have traded them for anything.

I miss them.

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Zombies and Vampires and Authors, Oh My!

Fellow Trifecta Publishing House label mate Mark London Williams joins me on the latest edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss all manner of undead creatures, his new book, Max Random and the Zombie 500, and my new book, The Dark Truth. And we let you know how to attend our Facebook book release party. Both books drop Monday, and our party is Monday too. You can order both on Amazon.

Listen to Chris Ingalls Fill His Brita Water Filter Pitcher

It’s been awhile since the last episode of the Get the Knaak podcast. My good friend Chris Ingalls checks in to discuss the latest Hollywood scandal bombshells, politics, books, movies, serial TV including Stranger Things, and the upcoming release of my debut novel. And we have a rare audio treat – listen as Chris fills his Brita pitcher. It’s riveting.

Win a Signed Copy of The Dark Truth

My debut novel, The Dark Truth, drops in a week and a half on Monday, Nov. 20, but I am giving away three signed copies on Goodreads. Hit the link in the widget to find out how to enter to win!

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The Dark Truth by Jerry Knaak

The Dark Truth

by Jerry Knaak

Giveaway ends November 15, 2017.

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B-Boy Running Adventures – More Cities Checked Off

IMG_1445I am nothing if not a creature of habit, and if I visit a city multiple times, I tend to run the same routes. I am not always that comfortable running in unusual places, this is usually reflected in my per-mile pace.

I normally run the 16th Street Mall in Denver. While out and about at my two favorite haunts in Denver, The Tattered Cover bookstore and My Brother’s Bar, I noticed a park I hadn’t seen before. If I had it was during the winter and at night, so I paid it no mind.

IMG_1293Commons Park beckoned. The riverside trails were fantastic and I turned in a terrific time for a three-mile run. I was only in Denver for one night so I had to make it a quick early morning excursion. Running along the South Platte River for a stretch was very pleasant. I had walked by Confluence Park, a favorite spot of The Beats in the late 1940s, so Commons Park was a nice find.

I usually stick close to the hotel, and Commons Park wasn’t too far at all. I definitely left a lot of trails to explore and I will hit this park again next time.

Ah Buffalo. What can I say about this western New York city 60 miles west of my hometown? Late October weather in Buffalo can be unpredictable. When I was a kid growing up in Rochester, I went trick-or-treating in the snow a few times. Oh, it’s not like  was trudging through six-foot drifts in one of those God awful plastic/vinyl drugstore Halloween costumes with the “I can’t see and/or breathe” mask with the cheap-ass rubber band to secure it.

IMG_1387I had no idea where I was going. I just ventured out and ran through the local neighborhood. Eventually, I found myself downtown in the theater district. The weather was shit. It was colder than it was supposed to be. It was windier than it was supposed to be. It was wetter than it was supposed to be. I don’t mind running in a little bit of weather, but I didn’t bring the proper gear and I was ill-equipped. I managed to make the best of it and get my three miles in.

I have been to Buffalo numerous times in my life. When I enlisted in the United States Navy, I did all of my in-processing at the Military Entrance Processing Station at the Federal Building. I don’t remember that many churches in Buffalo. Most were neighborhood Catholic parishes just like the ones back home. Austere brick buildings with elementary schools or rectories – or both – attached. I had never run in Buffalo, and although it was a familiar experience because it was so close and similar to Rochester, it was a singularly unique experience.

IMG_1455Miami. Another new one. I had been to Miami before but I had never stayed downtown, and I had never gone running there. Well, let me tell you. All of Miami thinks it is a dance club. The area near my hotel was so congested and under construction I figured running there would be too dangerous. I figured it would have been a bad look to get hit by a car while trying to get my miles in.

So, I decided to head to Miami Beach. I had never been to Miami Beach before and an online review of the best places to run in Miami had the beach at Miami Beach at the top of the list. I took an Uber over and set out.

Most of the beach is what you would expect, soft sand, barcaloungers, and plenty of beach goers. It was a bit overcast and the sky was threatening rain. I was thankful for that. The sun wasn’t blazing hot in the middle of the day like I thought it would be.

The back of the beach, however, was packed sand, plenty good for running. It was a little softer than I would have liked. You don’t get the return on each step like you do on a harder surface. I didn’t mind, I was running on Miami Beach for cryin’ out loud.

I headed south and just past the two-mile mark, I came upon a pier. I took a photo break and then turned around and headed back to my point of origin.

All of the beachfront resort hotels operate concession stands with a variety of refreshments. I took advantage of the opportunity and finished my four-mile run with an ice cold beer. I planted my feet in the Atlantic ocean and took in the scenery with a celebratory brew. It was a straight-line run for the most part. I do like some twists and turns, but I won’t complain.

Next up is Mexico City again, I hope. I hope I have time to get one in this trip. I am in much better shape than the last time and I hope to run farther non-stop than the last time. The altitude is a killer. I did better in Denver this time. That was an encouraging sign.

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