Thanksgiving is one of the truly great days of the year. No school, no responsibilities, football on TV and some of the most delectable food I could ever imagine.
My mother was certain that real butter would clog our arteries so we were a margarine family–except for Thanksgiving. That was the day we all got something we really liked–and I loved real butter. I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen and steal samples of the turkey when my Mother wasn’t looking. On a good day, I could almost get a meal of samples before we ever sat down to eat. With any luck, I could confiscate an entire jar of green olives before anyone noticed them missing.
Even Dad would relax on Thanksgiving. He wouldn’t make me mow the lawn, and if he asked me to take out the garbage I wouldn’t even mind–the trade-off was worth it. Yes, Thanksgiving truly was a wonderful day.
This Thanksgiving was going according to plan. I had successfully raided the kitchen on at least 3 occasions securing delicious treats, and it appeared that experience was paying off. In less than 3 hours the real feast would begin, and then the tasty leftovers that I would continue to consume until it was finally time to go to bed.
I had just swallowed a couple of green olives when I heard my father calling.
“Vincent, where are you,” he called.
Stepping out of the kitchen I smiled and said, “Right here Dad.”
My father was standing in the living room with a coat and car keys in hand.
“I have an errand to run and want you to come with me,” said Dad.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said.
And with that, he was out the door and headed for the car.
I grabbed my coat and jumped into the front seat of our 1958 Chevy Nomad station wagon as Dad was backing out of the driveway.
Vacating the warm confines of Mother’s kitchen meant leaving the spoils to my marauding younger brother, and I could see him waving from the front window with a jar of olives in his hand and a wide smile on his face. I would deal with him later.
Just over the hill was the “King Supers” store where Mom always did the weekly grocery shopping–but something must be wrong. I had never been to the grocery store with Dad. The roles in our family had been keenly defined–Mom was in charge of the grocery department and Dad did anything associated with fixing everything inside and out–with my help of course. I could only assume Mom had forgotten some little thing and Dad was just helping out. Wow–was I wrong.
Up and down the aisles we went at breakneck speed, and my appraisal of my Father went up a notch. This guy could shop! No reading labels or checking for coupons for this guy–just toss it in the cart and away we go. I even got into the spirit and chucked in an extra half-gallon of ice cream–he didn’t seem to mind. Now, this was the way shopping should be done. What a haul–we’d be having Thanksgiving for a month.
Finally, the groceries were loaded in the back of the station wagon and off we went–but this wasn’t the way home.
“Dad,” I said. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” he said.
Down Palmer Park Boulevard we went, and right past our Church. We traversed all the way across Colorado Springs until we finally came to a neighborhood of modest-looking row houses.
Dad stopped the car and said, “Jump out, I’ll need your help.”
To my surprise, he was unloading our groceries!
“Here, you can carry two bags,” he said.
With both of our hands filled with bags, Dad led the way up the sidewalk to a small one-story house.
He reached the front door and gave it a loud rap. The door opened in only a moment, and to my surprise children came running out from every direction. They were jumping up and down in frenzied excitement and shouting words in Spanish. I didn’t know what they were saying but I’d never seen a happier group of kids. There must have 8 or 10 children and all of them seemed younger than me.
My Father and I waded through the excited children and deposited the bags on the kitchen counter. The large shopping bags had obscured my view as I walked through the tiny house but now I could see clearly.
The house was meticulously kept–everything very neat and orderly. My eyes dropped to the floor and I momentarily stopped. The floor was missing—there was only dirt. Everything was so neat and clean but the floor was–dirt. Rugs had been placed to cover as much of the barren ground as possible, but unmistakably there was no floor.
My Father had already left the house and was halfway to the car, on his way for the second trip of groceries. I ran to catch him and he loaded two more bags into my arms. We proceeded back into the small interior of the house, and I noticed the children had lost none of their zeal. They were gathered around their Mother, squealing with delight as each item was lifted one by one from the paper bags.
I looked at the young mother for the first time, and there were tears streaming down her cheeks. She tried to say something to my Father but the words wouldn’t come.
She followed us to the door and we stepped outside into the crisp November air. The woman put her hand on my Fathers arm and looked into his eyes.
“God bless you,” she said.
I followed behind my Father to the car and slipped into the seat beside him. I had a feeling I’d never felt before, something very different, and I was quiet as my Father started the engine and we headed for home.
Minutes passed and finally, my father said, “What did you think about that Vincent?”
I looked solemnly at my Father and replied, “Dad, the floor was dirt.”
My Father smiled at me in a gentle way and said, “Not everyone lives the same way you do, Vincent.”
I was quiet and thoughtful as we drove through the streets of Colorado Springs and back to our home at 1353 Bennett Avenue.
My Mother was busy setting the table, and in only minutes the feast would begin in earnest. My Father would carve the turkey and I would serve as the official taste tester. The mixture of smells was so enticing I could hardly endure the anticipation of the meal to come.
Finally, Mother made the official call and everyone gathered around the table. The guests had all arrived, and the clamor died down as everyone assumed their respective places.
We took our seats and the room became momentarily quiet as my Father asked the blessing. I closed my eyes and thought of the children on the other side of town. I felt good that we had helped them, and I prayed that they would enjoy this Thanksgiving as much as I did.
Thanksgiving 1962 was a wonderful day–a day I’ll never forget.