We were living in our small apartment in Rosamond, California while we waited for housing to become available on the Air Force Base where we were stationed. Autumn plodded along bringing with it the cooler winds that poured off the eastern side of the Antelope Valley mountains. It certainly felt uneventful as there were only the two of us at the table that Thursday afternoon in late November. Thankful that we had a place to live and that we were together, all the while thinking of our families who must have been enjoying the holiday back in New York.
At the bottom of a stack of pans in our kitchen today, rests the 14″ black-speckled porcelain-enameled roasting pan that we had purchased at the Commissary for our first holiday meal since our wedding. Having both grown up with basically the same menu of turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and assorted canned vegetables, we saw no need to come up with anything new. This was our first time away from home and family with the holiday season hastening its soon appearance. It would be the little things over then next few years that we would use to remind us of home. We had no idea at the time that tradition would play such a large part in something as small as a dinner.
Olga worked diligently making our limited meal special while the Macy’s parade made its noise on the TV only a few steps away in the living room. I rendered a little assistance, mostly in the forms of criticism and carving, neither of which had I any talent. The apartment air filled with those familiar holiday aromas. We didn’t have any fancy bowls or serving dishes so, she filled the compact kitchen table with pots and pans. We scooped and poured until our plates were full and our palates satisfied. My bride’s hands had lovingly prepared that meal and set the stage for our favorite time of the year.
The Holidays would pass quickly that year and on-base housing became available to us that January. We packed up our 2 door Ford with everything we owned jammed into the trunk, moving to our new address on Payne Avenue. The housing area we lived in was unique, to say the least. In order to qualify for Base housing as a First-Term Airman, you had to be married. Singles lived in the barracks. Very few military families lived in the towns surrounding. Boron and North Edwards had little or no rentals. Lancaster and Palmdale were more expensive and relatively distant. Both reasons made them impractical on an Airman’s salary. Military pay remains decidedly unfriendly to married couples. You may already know why Rosamond wasn’t much of a choice.
We were welcomed by our new neighbors and soon became good friends. Everyone living around us either had a young child or had one in the hanger, soon to hit the flight-line. We we not the exception. May would bring our first anniversary and our first son as we began to spend more and more time growing closer our new neighbors. Our world centered around that neighborhood. For most of us, home was too far away to travel for visits, so we spent a lot of time together. Any reason to get together would serve to create a family-style atmosphere.
The desert weather was predictable, if not dependable. We only had a couple of cloudy days a year so most of our activities were outdoors, with the exception of mid-winter and mid-summer where living rooms became our meeting places. Most of the guys that lived close to us had day-jobs and our young wives stayed at home, attending to our babies. That meant we were all home at the same times. Barbecues and kid play-dates were the order of the day, nearly year-round.
The holidays were no exception. Those times of year seemed to tighten our ties with these couples, serving to fill the void that the miles brought. Our friendship with the couple from Nebraska who lived across the street, had developed that first year. Their daughter Shannon and our son, Mike, were close in age and would became playmates. Olga and Pat had hit it off and Doug and I were pals. Both of us were far enough away from home that going east for the holidays was unlikely. It didn’t take much thought to spend Thanksgiving together. The girls made the plans and set the menu. Hosting a dinner was not what you’d think of today. The cost of entertaining was prohibitive, so we each brought something to our neighborhood meals. Thanksgiving would carry the same protocol.
We watched football, keeping a loose eye on the kids, as the girls prepared dinner. The usual fixings applied, with a small addition. We brought a turkey and our friends contributed a large smoked ham. The usual presence of sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy added to the festive meal, were a warming addition.
The turkey was in the oven the longest and filled the small four room apartment with the familiar scents. As dinner time approached, they added the ham to the oven, to keep our bird company. Both seemed comfortable on the center rack.
The time had arrived to check to see if our dinner was ready for serving. Olga positioned herself at the front of the stove and Pat at the side as they opened the oven door. Carefully, they slid the rack out that held both large pans housing what was soon to be our holiday dinner entrees. Perhaps they were distracted by the kids running around the kitchen, inattentive husbands or not understanding weight distribution. They pulled the rack out with the heavy pans a little too close to the edge. Both pans began to slowly creep toward the front of the oven. When we heard the small concert of yelps, we jumped to our feet. We arrived at the doorway to the kitchen as both pans slid quietly from the rack, simultaneously striking the open oven door, leaping into the air as our wives tried unsuccessfully to catch them. The pans hit the floor, tipped, and their contents hurriedly skidded across the kitchen floor, leaving their greasy trails. A moment of awe had passed when we all burst into laughter as Olga and Pat, chasing them across the room like two toddlers running with joy from their mommies. They scooped up our dinner, placing the contents back into their respective pans. Dinner was soon retrieved without further incident and the six of us came to the table for our little feast. Friends, sharing a time that many families experience but only a few understand and even less, truly appreciate. Those are the things that make the dinner choices really secondary.
Our Thanksgiving menu has remained steady throughout the years with one notable exception, so far anyway. The now infamous change took place years ago. We had a lot of company that year. Some had arrived early so Olga did the kitchen duties unsupervised, as I entertained our guests. While carrying her cargo of dinner goodies to the table, I noticed the odd addition of scalloped potatoes and broccoli. Don’t get me wrong, my wife is a great cook and I love both those dishes. But this was Thanksgiving and I’m not a big fan of change when it comes to holiday dinners. I politely asked if there were sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Both had adorned our table for years. “I thought something different”, came the response. I pondered that thought as our family and guests looked at me. Seeing the opportunity to inject a little humor, I said, “Broccoli?”. Now trying to muster some self control and feigning my displeasure, somewhat. “Who has broccoli on Thanksgiving? And, scalloped potatoes? What’s next? Okra and french fries? I don’t recall seeing that in any Norman Rockwell paintings.” That made for a few laughs and our family and friends at the table got to mock my traditionalist views about dinner. I might add the observation that there hasn’t been broccoli on the Thanksgiving menu since then. Some things are sacred, after all.
There are times where the bonds of family extend beyond the sharing of a name. Since that time, there have been few, if any, holidays that we have not shared at least a portion with close friends, in addition to our family. Find a little time this year to look around at those you share a holiday meal with and be thankful.
From our family to yours, may this Thanksgiving bring the blessing of God to everyone at your table.