A Time for Thanks and Gratitude

Hi everyone,

This Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s a day set aside to reflect and give thanks for family, friends, the goodness of the earth, and all that nourishes us through out the year. This year I think we need it more than ever even if we can’t gather together like we’ve done in the past.

What I like about Thanksgiving is that it’s a secular holiday celebrated by all regardless of ethnicity, race, and religious faith. It’s also a holiday where gifts are not exchanged and there is food! Usually, for most of us, an excess of food. And many of those foods are commonly prepared across the country; turkey, sweet potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. This sounds like our menu!

Thursday, my Traveling Partner and I will mark the occasion by ourselves. It won’t be the first time this has happened and it likely won’t be the last. We’ll be thinking of the Thanksgivings of the past, especially those that we spent with family and friends far and wide. In this week’s blog post I’ll take you on a few of those journeys.

First, I’ll take you back to 1972, our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. My Traveling Partner was working the night shift at an extended care facility near our apartment in the Punahou District of central Honolulu, Hawaii. She slept a few hours and then we met up with some our Army friends for dinner at the big, pink hospital overlooking Honolulu where I stationed, Tripler Army Medical Center. The traditional Thanksgiving meal, with some local touches, was served outside under beautiful skies and mild weather. The military does an excellent job of putting on special occasion meals, likely as a moral booster for the troops away from home during the holidays. I remember the meal as excellent, much better than typical mess hall fare. I also remember that Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, then the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and his wife were in attendance, a trip likely supported by the taxpayers.

The next year at Thanksgiving, we were back in North Dakota after I was discharged from the Army. My Traveling Partner had just started a job at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fargo. I joined her for our Thanksgiving Day dinner in the hospital cafeteria. It was nice but hurried as she had to get back to her post to care for patients. Over the years, we spent most Thanksgiving Day meals wherever we were living at the time, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Occasionally, we would travel to spend the day with family but with a health care worker in the family, we were often by ourselves.

This changed in recent years as our small family scattered around the U. S. and we had more freedom to travel unencumbered by work schedules. In 2009, we spent the Thanksgiving holiday in State College, Pennsylvania where the recently married Eldest daughter and the Son-in-Law made their new home. At the time, they lived in the country in a comfortable converted shop or granary (depending who you ask!). On the same property, the absentee landlord maintained a relatively new two-story house where all the guests stayed. We had a grand time, cooking, eating, and playing games. We also took in some of the local sites such as the Penn State football stadium with a statue of Joe Paterno at the entrance (since removed). We went for walks in the lush, beautiful countryside, enjoyed each other’s company, and even went of a cave tour. A time to remember.

The next year we were on the road again, this time to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to spent Thanksgiving at the Son-in-Law’s aunt and uncle’s country house. Like the year before, we had a feast that couldn’t be beat, all while enjoying each other’s company. There was one person missing from our day of giving thanks, my Son-In-Law’s brother was killed in an accident just before Christmas the year before. We missed his big smile and good humor.

On a couple of occasions, I skipped out on washing dishes to take photos of the beautiful countryside near our lodgings. The road followed a small river carved through the rocky hills.

One afternoon, our host took us to the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway that runs along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains that are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. The 469-mile parkway connects two of the busiest national parks in the National Park system, Shenandoah in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. While the photo below doesn’t do the scenery justice, we were in awe of majestic views along the parkway.

Skipping ahead to 2015, my Traveling Partner and I spent the holiday with The Youngest in Minneapolis. At the time, she lived in a tiny apartment with a small kitchen but we managed to make a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner. For entertainment, I forced my companions to listen to Arlo Guthrie’s famous Thanksgiving eighteen and half minute blues/talk song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” Click here to listen to the original recording. I’ve been a fan for years and have attended his performances every time he showed up in Madison, every couple of years or so. About a month ago, Arlo announced that due to health issues he was giving up touring. This Thanksgiving, I’ll listen to Alice’s Restaurant again and maybe even see if the film version is on Netflix.

Thanksgiving 2016 found us out west in Fernley, Nevada where we shared the holiday with my Traveling Partner’s sister and family. We a fun time with the kids and enjoying the views along the Carson River. 

One day a group of us drove up to take a look at Pyramid Lake. Note the pyramid shaped island in the far background. About fifty miles north of this lake is where the famous Burning Man festival held annually around Labor Day.

We visited the former gold mining boom town, Virginia City. We enjoyed a sarsaparilla at the famous Brass Rail Saloon and checked out some of the many gifts shops for unique Christmas gifts. Later, we toured the Ft. Churchill State Historic Park, a major way station for the Pony Express. In the desert, the days were mild and the nights quite chilly, however the sunsets were spectacular! More good memories made with family. 

The next year, we went in the opposite direction to St. Simons Island on the Georgia/Florida state line. The Son-In-Law organized what he termed “Parksgiving.” He rented a five bedroom house on the Island for the week and invited family and friends to join the fun. Our goal was to take in at least one National Historic site within driving distance everyday during our stay except on Thanksgiving Day. We accomplished our goal, we have proof in the form of stamps in our National Park Passport. 

One of our excursions involved a boat ride to Cumberland Island where we took tours with National Park guides. We enjoyed the history of the Island. An interesting factoid, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife Carolyn were married in the old African Baptist Church in 1996. In the third photo, the mansion now in ruins was built and owned by members of the Carnegie family who later gave or sold most of the Island to the National Park Service.

Our longest drive, about an hour and thirty minutes, was to Ft. Augustine to visit the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. We took part in some tours and ranger talks. The highlight for me was the ceremonial firing of the cannon.

We enjoyed the morning and evening strolls on the beach. Again, good memories made with family.

The 2018 Thanksgiving Day feast was notable for the person missing from the table. My Traveling Partner’s mother passed away at age 95 1/2 the Sunday before Thanksgiving. While we gave thanks for all who gathered from around the country, we were preparing for the funeral on Saturday. Some of us did manage to make the drive to nearby Medora, North Dakota for a driving tour of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Other than a few other visitors, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. My favorite stop in the South Unit of the Park is at Wind Canyon. I enjoy hiking the short distance to the promontory overlooking the Missouri River and shooting some photos. 

Thanks for tagging along with my reminisce of past Thanksgivings. During this time of the virus, when many of us will be celebrating without the close comfort and joy of our families, may we give thanks for the goodness and abundance of the earth. Peace be with you all. And don’t forget to enjoy a little Arlo along the way!

Until next week, happy virtual travels!