I continue to enjoy interviewing and writing about “polished silver” folks who live in the region that centers in on Chautauqua County, NY, and Warren County, PA. My “memories” article is gleaned from folks I call friends.
The first memory is from Roberto who a number of years ago found himself in a new job location just prior to Thanksgiving, single and not having made close friends. If you have ever been alone on a holiday you can imagine sitting down beside him on the back steps of his apartment building sharing a can of Dinty Moore Stew, spoon in hand and savoring the cold ingredients. He wasn’t much of a cook. I’m happy to say that his personal thoughts were positive of all the fortunate folks around their home tables enjoying the bounty with family and friends. His subsequent Thanksgiving days were filled with sometimes hectic family moments of his own all the better savored by comparison to an open, cold can treat on the back steps at an earlier time. In later years, Roberto even purposely chose that delicious canned stew to donate to a local food pantry. On a more upbeat note, yes, everyone, there is a Santa Claus. For the past several years just before Christmas, Josie, who oversees the Circle of Love organization in Dunkirk, has received a money order for $250.00 with a note similar to last year’s: “Merry Christmas – May you and your group continue doing your good work. Thank you.” The timing was right and the message to the point.
A gift like this is like the beginning of a snowball. Conveniently, polyfil, needed for their pillow project, was on sale at the local Wal-Mart’s Home and Garden Department. Then the local manager, Brad Balentine, more than matched the initial anonymous gift with an additional $301.14 on behalf of Wal-Mart for Josie to buy the surplus 682 pounds of polyfil to fill a great number of pillows in the coming months up to the present time. Dunkirk Care Center provided a truck for transport. Josie concluded, “God bless all angels involved.”
My friend, Juanita, and her husband John, who live on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution, tell the holiday story of getting together two grown children and grandchildren each of whom live in communities where spouse’s families reside. To alleviate choices to be made, a novel solution was concocted to utilize a visit for the entire Thanksgiving weekend.
Juanita explained, “On Thursday, Thanksgiving day, we celebrate Thanksgiving, turkey and all. Friday morning is Christmas Eve. The grandchildren put up the decorations and the tree. We go to the mall and do last minute Christmas shopping. Then, we wrap our gifts and place them under the tree. Saturday morning is Christmas day and we sing carols, eat an appropriate meal and open our gifts. Saturday night is New Year’s Eve and we traditionally eat pizza and play Canasta. Sunday is New Year’s day and our families head back to their respective homes, nine hours in different directions. Often the grandchildren perform on Friday afternoon with French horn, piano, voice and dance. It is a wonderful memory and, God willing, we will continue to keep the practice alive.”
My friend Sherrie mentioned a practice that her parents used to both initially satisfy her and a younger sister on early Christmas morning and further delay the expected morning activity. The sisters slept in bunk beds and after they entered dreamland the parents attached two large stockings filled with small items, such as coloring books and crayons to keep the sisters busy at the wee hours of the morning. The progression to the excitement of the featured gifts was delayed and parents were a little more rested and tolerating.
More than fifty years ago on Thanksgiving Day in Cassadaga, NY, my friend Susan and her parents had planned on going to her grandparents’ home for dinner, about a half mile away. Susan’s mother had the task of preparing and cooking the turkey. Soon before it was time to take the turkey to her grandmother’s home a terrific snowstorm suddenly struck the area. It was a holiday and snowplow drivers were home having their own turkey dinners. Car travel on the roadways was not feasible and Susan’s sled was commandeered for transporting the main course.
Susan and her parents dressed in heavy clothes, braved the heavy snowstorm with the warm turkey wrapped in a blanket and placed on the sled. (Now that’s a sight to imagine.) The main course was ceremoniously pulled to grandma’s house where a good time was had by all with many memories. Given a voice, the turkey may have had a few choice words about the finale.
In conclusion, I must mention two brothers I met who recalled one of the finest joint Christmas presents they received in their youth, namely a large house built by their father from oversize pieces of Tinker Toys. The large colored rods were three and six feet long and the round connectors were a foot and a half in diameter. The father confided that it was far simpler to build than previous Christmas toy needing construction.
God bless and happy holiday memories for all.
Mr. Dilks is an adopted Seneca Indian, Sensei, triathlete, Olympic torch bearer twice, long distance cyclist and has canoed the Allegheny River from the headwaters to Pittsburgh. He has been a columnist for Masters Athlete magazine and the History Channel Magazine. He has also written three novels and will publish a fourth in the fall of this year. His wife, Susan, has written a novel, Her Reason For Being.