Sunday, November 26, 2017

Memories under the Influence of Tryptophan!

It’s all over! We’ve watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. We’ve had our fill of turkey and dressing (or stuffing if you are from the south) rice and gravy, veggies and all the other good stuff that we munch over Thanksgiving.

My family used to celebrate together every holiday with a large meal with twenty five or thirty folks sitting around the tables. I say tables because there were far too many of us to sit at the “adult” table. When I was younger, being relegated to the “kids” table was pretty cool. That was where the action was, cutting up with brothers, sisters and cousins while the parents has their boring conversations about work, sports, life and everyone who wasn’t there.

When I was younger, up through my high school years, after dinner, the kids would go out and play. Usually at Thanksgiving and Christmas the boys would toss a football around, at Easter it was baseball and on the Fourth of July we often went for a swim. Being of the male persuasion, I have absolutely no memory of what the girls did. I remember thinking how could the adults sit around after dinner and just talk when there was so much fun to be had. I would soon learn!

As the years went by, I eventually made it to the “adult” table as the ranks of those older than me thinned out. By the time I went to college, in my role of the oldest of cousins, I assumed a permanent place at the older folks table, for now I was one of the ones coming back home with tales of college and the Navy. That first time I was directed to the adult table was a momentous occasion. This is when I began hearing the stories of the Second World War from my uncles that served in Europe and the South Pacific. My aunts had tales from the home front, including one who was one of the 1,074 pilots in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs.) They flew over 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft. The following years, my siblings and cousins joined that table. I didn’t notice at first but the size of our family gatherings was getting smaller every year, as more and more of my generation married and began to split their holiday time between our family and their in-laws.

My uncles shared first hand tales of fighting with Patton across North Africa and later invaded Italy. Tales of surviving kamikaze attacks on aircraft carriers in the pacific and grading runways in New Guinea ducking sniper fire. My aunt told of flying planes from factory to airfields. Through their eyes, I gained an insight into that great struggle fought by the Greatest Generation. And I felt the elation as the victorious troops came home and started their families.

I’ve always considered it an interesting twist that after the war, one of my uncles moved to Lockport, New York and worked in the GM Plant there. Lockport is just a few miles from Buffalo where the USS Little Rock (CLG-4) is on display at the Naval and Military Park. The Little Rock is the ship on which I made my first voyage as a Midshipman in the Naval Reserves. I have many fond memories and some not so good of that cruise to Europe and the UK during the summer of 1964. There were a few years before the passing of that brave generation that I was able to share with them my own story, although not as exciting or heroic as theirs, with them. My brother’s and cousins’ stories were added to the exchange of “war stories” that was part of those after dinner conversations. Eventually my uncles and aunt opened up more and more about their wartime experiences. War and battle took on a darker image than the ones we formed playing in our back yards as young school age children.

These days, each year when Thanksgiving rolls around, I think back on those gatherings; the food, the family, the stories. It may sound corny and trite but it makes me very thankful that I came from a large family that spent so much holiday time together. We are no longer all in Jacksonville. Some of us are not close enough to travel home for the gathering. These days, long distant calls replace the face to face meetings. But it is all good.

This weekend, there was turkey and all the fixin’s. There was the sound of my brothers’ and sister’s voices on the phone. There was the usual tryptophan induced nap and a little football on the TV. The holiday season is upon us; the brightest time of the year. I wonder if we will have snow? Oh MY!

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