November 23, 2008
To paraphrase one of the masters of the English language, Yogi Berra, I can’t remember the first Thanksgiving I remember but I remember at least three after that.
The first Thanksgiving I clearly recall on my family’s dairy farm occurred when I was, maybe, six years old. That year my parents invited another dairying couple and their four children – all boys to perfectly match my three brothers and me – to our house for the holiday.
Since both families had cows, the party began at dinner, straight-up noon. No sooner had the laughing adults and rowdy boys sat down to what I remember was an awful-tasting goose entree than saucer-sized snowflakes began to fall. None of us had listened to the radio weatherman so the snowfall was a wonderful surprise.
And then it snowed and snowed. In fact, it snowed so heavily that the party ended shortly after dinner so our guests could slip-slide back to their farm to care for their livestock and to ensure they were home in time for the evening milking.
When you have cows, I remember my father explaining, that’s just the way it is.
The second Thanksgiving I remember was equally uneventful. That year – I was probably 13 or 14 – I stayed home, alone, from Aunt Vicki’s all-family feast. Since Aunt Vicki was a “dinner’s at 3” person, (who eats dinner at 3? I wondered) my family, literally, would have had to eat and run to return home for the late afternoon milking.
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As self-sacrificing as a holiday alone might sound, my plans weren’t so selfless. First, I wasn’t going to wait until 3 to eat. Second, I loved watching football on television and two games were scheduled and, third, I could spend my entire holiday watching football while eating my mother’s homemade cinnamon rolls.
And, I’m now somewhat embarrassed to admit, the plan unfolded beautifully. Two football games, a dozen rolls, a half gallon of cold milk and 100 cows. All-in-all a near-perfect holiday for a teenager.
Truth be told, I’d probably do it again for the homemade rolls and four-percent butterfat milk. On second thought, forget the rolls and just give me the milk.
The third Thanksgiving memory centers on the first Thanksgiving I spent off the farm and away from my family. It, too, involves cows.
That year, 1975, I was a junior (well, a third-year student anyway) at the Big U with a part-time job milking cows on the university’s dairy farm. Another student worker and I split the long weekend schedule: I’d milk Thanksgiving, Friday and Saturday morning; he’d milk Saturday night and Sunday.
When the widowed boss at my second job, working a cafeteria’s supper rush in return for a rushed supper, learned I would be on campus Thanksgiving, she invited me to her house for turkey and trimmings.
“There’ll be a whole flock of orphaned geese for supper and you’ll fit right in,” she explained. Who was I to refuse such an intriguing offer.
Thanksgiving evening I walked across campus to Mrs. H’s just as snow began to fall. Three hours and the best persimmon pudding I’ve ever enjoyed later, I trudged back to my single-room apartment in heavy snow and total silence. The next day, Friday, from before dawn until after dusk, I milked cows and pushed snow.
The cold, the work, the holiday alone were worth it because mid-Saturday I pony-expressed it by bus and car 90 miles to my sweetheart’s house. And while neither of us could have possibly known it at the time, that was the first of 33 consecutive – cows or no cows – Thanksgiving holidays the lovely Catherine and I would share.
© 2008 ag comm
Write to Alan Guebert at agcomm, 21673 Lago Dr., Delavan, IL 61734, or by email at email@example.com