- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
I have two conflicting childhood memories of Thanksgiving. I remember turkey prep in our little suburban kitchen, with my Dad buttering a brown paper bag, placing the turkey in the buttered bag, and then putting the big, bagged turkey into the oven. It sounds like a weird method to cook a turkey, but I tell ya, it results in a moist 'n' delicious bird and a tasty holiday meal.
But I also remember going to my Aunt Mary's house on Park Street in Syracuse for Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know if I've confused different Thanksgivings in my mind, or if my Mom baked the turkey in North Syracuse and we transported it to Aunt Mary's house for the family dinner. Or maybe I'm confusing Thanksgivings with the Christmas Eves we spent at Aunt Mary's. I don't know.
But I think we did go to Aunt Mary's house for most of our Thanksgivings. And my memories of holiday dinners there remain full and vibrant, and plentiful: turkey and stuffing, roasted potatoes, macaroni and meatballs (We're Italian, fercryinoutloud!), and sweet, sumptuous desserts. As far and away the youngest kid at these dinners, I was usually relegated to a meal at the kitchen table rather than the dining room. And I vividly recall loud conversations after the meal was done, as my Uncle Art and Uncle Mike argued politics, and my Dad--ever the peacemaker--tried to referee. It is an indelible, happy memory, no matter how much fuzz my aging brain tries to gather around it.
Uncle Mike passed away in the mid-70s, when I was in high school. Uncle Art died in 1995, when my lovely wife Brenda was pregnant with Meghan, our only child. I lost my Dad in 2012. Aunt Mary, now 93 years old, resides in an assisted living facility; the family house on Park Street, which had belonged to my grandfather, was sold long ago. At 91, my Mom still lives in our old house in North Syracuse, and I check in with her every day.
For Thanksgiving this year, my brother Rob and sister-in-law Barb invited us to join them in Albany for a family meal. Rob and Barb have a new grandson, whom my Mom had not yet had the opportunity to meet. With that added incentive of allowing Mom to meet her newest great-grandchild, we agreed to make the trip. On Thanksgiving morning, Brenda, Meghan, and I picked up Mom, and set off down the New York State Thruway for Thanksgiving dinner in Albany. (Aunt Mary and my cousin Mary Ann had planned to meet us in Albany, but a morning phone call from Mary Ann informed us that her Mom didn't feel up for the trip. It was the only disappointing aspect of an otherwise-lovely day.)
Travel can be intimidating, even precarious around here at this time of year. Earlier this week, Syracuse had been the unhappy recipient of almost two feet of snow dumped upon our sorry souls; it took my ol' Cub Cadet and me an hour to clear the driveway Monday morning, and I don't want to imagine how long it would have taken (and how much I would be achin') if I'd been armed with just a freakin' snow shovel.
But fortune favors the cold! Or the bold. Whatever. By Thanksgiving, temps had risen, excess snow had melted, and driving conditions were conducive for a road trip.
My wife's car has satellite radio, so Little Steven's Underground Garage channel accompanied and propelled our ride: Moby Grape, James Brown, The Dave Clark Five, The Ramones, and Lesley Gore were among the sounds keeping this intrepid driver on the straight and narrow. We were ahead of schedule, so I added two pit stops near journey's end, just so we wouldn't arrive at my brother's house before they were ready for this Syracuse invasion. We got there just as the other guests started to filter in.
A word about my brother's in-laws: like Tony the Tiger once said of a specific sugary cereal, they're great. I often joke with Brenda that both she and I lucked out when it came to in-laws, and that goes for the extended family, too. I love my family, and Brenda's family, and my sister-in-law Barb's family, and so on through all the attendant family tree branches you could name. I hear so much about people who can't get along with their own family, or with some element of their family, and it saddens me. Even during our holiday dinner this year, Meghan heard from a friend suffering through Thanksgiving with her aunt, in a setting where she didn't feel welcome. I realize it's a common situation, and it's alien to my own experience. I appreciate how lucky I've been to never know that kind of life.
For me, family--even extended family--has always been about love, and delight, and camaraderie. It's not that we all agree about everything--we don't--but we agree on what's basic and important. And we enjoy spending time together, laughing together, remembering what was and hoping for what may be. I wish more of my family could have been there--I wish my brother Art and his family could have come in from Ohio, and I wish my sister Denise and her family could have flown in from England, and I wish Mary Ann could have come with Aunt Mary--but I'm grateful for the opportunity to gather with those who could be there. And I'm aglow with the contented feeling of seeing my daughter grow into the incredible young adult that now stands where my cherished little girl used to be; I look back in awe, and I look on in wonder, and marvel at the grace life has granted me.
I wish we had more time together. I wish we had more time. Meghan joked that we need another wedding, just to gather the family together. I agreed, while thinking to myself, Please, not your wedding next. Not now. Not yet. We last gathered en masse for my Mom's 90th birthday celebration in August of 2015. That was a blast. We need more happy get-togethers like that. We need a chance to toast, and dance, and tell stories, and reminisce.
As a family, like all families, we have suffered loss. We have endured the trials of time and distance, and done what we could to sustain our fragile hearts. Time is cruel, and we are mortal. But we live, we love, and we understand the bounty that we have been given. On Thanksgiving, members of our family gathered once again to enjoy a fabulous meal, and to enjoy our all-too-brief time together. That's sufficient cause for gratitude right there. That's reason enough to just say Thanks.
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