So preoccupied with my own things, I hadn't thought about giving back, until four days before Thanksgiving, when my dad gave me a tip about an event honoring military personnel in basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Academy just north of Chicago.
Thanksgiving with the Navy, a Thanksgiving day for these young recruits away from the base, for bowling, for dinner. It's run by a veteran named Don, an Air Force airmen level 3 who served in Vietnam. After his experiences coming home, he vowed to honor the mem and women in the armed forces and 21 years ago, he came up with the idea to honor them with Thanksgiving dinner.
I'm a creature of habit. I have to workout before I do anything else, or I have to starting working on my books by 1pm. Spontaneous, I'm not. It was four days from Thanksgiving, I was hosting 14 people at my house; I had things to do.
But it was a worthwhile story to investigate. And after contacting my dad's client Lori, an owner of the Wauconda Bowl, I scheduled a time to meet with her, Don and Lisa, who runs the Thanksgiving dinner at the Moose lodge.
It was a touching conversation with all three organizers. Lori's son served in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. Lisa's brother served in Grenada and Don was injured in Danang, Vietnam. We had a conversation about their connection to the military, their family sacrifices, their worry for their loved ones.
Thanksgiving day starts with 100 volunteers on motorcycles, many retired military, escorting the bus filled with Navy recruits, to Wauconda where the young men and women are walked through town, honored by participants of the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, and walked to the 9/11 memorial at the center of town.
From there, the recruits are taken to the bowling alley, opened by Lori, where they spend the morning bowling, eating donuts, chatting with the volunteers and former members of the military. Phones and computers are donated for the day so recruits can call home, or check Facebook or simply connect with friends and family.
There is no political parties, no rancor, only Americans doing something nice for other Americans during one of the most depressing times of the year; they holidays without family. The event in itself is a simple act of kindness.
I'm a writer. To use my talent in the best way possible would be to give this amazing group of people the recognition they deserve. Not so much to give them the kudos for being selfless on Thanksgiving, but to also help them secure donations, to get their message to media and in doing so, encourage others to give of themselves, even if they're like me; creatures of habit who work very hard to go “off script.”
The little I did, was interview the organizers and show up the day of the event for an hour speaking with them, meeting some of the participants and other volunteers.
But what effects me so profoundly was at the end of the meeting on the Tuesday before the event, was speaking with Don, thanking him for his time and his service and assuring him, I will do my best to find an outlet for the story and I hoped that I could do the story justice. He nearly cried when he thanked me for what I was doing.
I wasn't expecting that.
Sometimes you take on a project for one reason and end up with a totally different perspective. I hope in the end I can do them justice and help out, if only for a day.
My grandparents immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland in 1948, (The family came from Poland and Russia before that). Eager to become citizens, to become American, they embraced traditions and in that, certain traditions became family traditions.
Early Thanksgivings would consist of the usual: turkey, stuffing, canned cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes. And then it happened. The story as I heard it, my grandmother discovered the stuffing recipe in a magazine. It was simple: bread onion, carrots, butter, eggs, and a potato. Yeah. A potato. It is by far, the best stuffing I have ever had.
Growing up, I would come downstairs on Thanksgiving morning to find my parents preparing the stuffing, the same stuffing my mom would help prepare as a kid. The difference between then and now, she'd use hand peelers and a grater; I got a food processor.
Without that stuffing, it just isn't Thanksgiving. With my parents divorced and my Thanksgiving rotated yearly, I make enough to share with whichever parent I'm not celebrating with that year.
Over the years, people have come and gone, sharing the day with us. Everyone brings something to share. And my food loving family, acquired yet another food related tradition. It's called Aunty Rudi cake. My aunt isn't allowed in the house unless she brings the moist and delicious cakes, that she doctored and that none of us can get enough of. It's actually one of those traditions that isn't just for Thanksgiving, It encompasses any family party. It's come down to each of us having our own travel case holder in which to carry any leftovers home with us.
As I write this, I realize that all of our traditions are food based. Beside the stuffing and the cake, our family always had a deep love for turkey skin. Yeah, the way we make our turkey is to ensure the skin is crispy, buttery, and heavenly. So much so, we stand around the turkey as it's being carved. One year, my aunt Shelley stole it out of my hand before I could stick it in my mouth.
The newest tradition started a few years ago. It was the smallest group, only five of us. I stayed in my pajamas as I prepared the stuffing, and wore them as my mom prepared the standing rib roast. Yes. Standing rib roast. Most of us, assembled that day were not big fans of turkey. Rather than making a large turkey, we made a small one and dined on the sumptuous flavor of rib roast. I know turkey wasn't there for the first Thanksgiving, it is one of our most favorite traditions. My mouth waters thinking about it.
And what do you celebrate? Are your traditions food related? Location related?
In the food processor, grind the rolls and leave in a large bowl. You'll need it. Grind the onion, carrots and potatoes. Add to the bread. Add the eggs. Hand mix, adding the water/butter mixture as needed. The stuffing should be wet, and easily form a ball. You don't want it mushy. Add the Lowry's seasoning salt to taste. Place in 350 degree oven until hot.
While we don't add anything else to the stuff, I know others have added cranberries, almond slivers, celery or whatever ingredient that tickles their fancy. As this is our family tradition, we don't mess with it.
Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I have memories of both sides of my family coming to our house. I always have a sense of warmth. Even as I remember fighting my dad and brother for crispy turkey skin or making stuffing in my pajamas. I have to admit, I don't enjoy the holiday as much now that I'm an adult. It's a lot of work and it's exhausting. But I do hope that when I host it at my house, my children will take away their own special memories of Thanksgiving to pass on to their own children.
I've seen people this year expressing gratitude on Facebook. I didn't participate because some of my things I'm grateful for might not seem as normal as others. But we're all different and we all have different experiences that make us happy and thankful.
I'm always grateful for my children. They are amazing kids, fairly well-behaved, good students and constant reminders that I should be present in my life, take a little time to stop and enjoy and spent some quality time with them. Sometimes it's not always easy, sometimes I just have to turn off the computer. Annie and Cham will just have to wait.
I'm thankful for the people in my life. Some you get stuck with, some you let in because you like them. It's not always easy but they and the experiences you have with them make you who you are whether you like it or not.
I'm thankful for two amazing editors, Kira and Ashley. Not because they edited my books, but because they offered me a level of support beyond what was required and it was that support which kept me writing. For whatever reason they chose to give more of themselves and for that I will always be grateful and thankful.
I may never meet the next in my list but they influenced me in ways that truly shaped me as a writer. I'm thankful all of the writers of Nancy Drew who wrote under the name Carolyn Keene. It was my first time reading mysteries. I loved them and have ever since. To Judy Blume I'm thankful for the lesson in writing about characters you care for. I might not always hit the mark, but it's always in the back of my head as I try to draw a complete picture of who they are. To Stephen King, I'm thankful for the lesson in imagination, and thinking outside the box. I'm writing fantasy, anything can go, so let it flow. And lastly I'm thankful to JK Rowling for simply writing books that made me happy, but most importantly, reminded me that I wanted to be a writer. Without that little push, I might not have written my own books.
Lastly, I'm thankful for being me. For learning something from all of my setbacks and realizing that with a little belief in myself I might be able to get somewhere good.
It's always nice around this time to remember what we're thankful for. I can add so many other things and people and expand beyond my books or career but for now I'll leave the list where it is. It's a fluid and ever-changing thing as life moves about.
So what are you thankful for? Happy Thanksgiving!