Monthly Archives: February 2015

Thanksgiving – Part Two: The Holiday Feast

Arriving home from our Thanksgiving morning hunting trip, Dad and I would shed our heavy coats and boots in the newly enclosed back porch, and enter the house through the kitchen. We were a bit chilled, of course, from our morning in the cold November fields, and the sudden entry into a kitchen filled with the warm, wonderful smells of a Thanksgiving dinner in the making was one of life’s great moments.

The aroma, and the steamed windows, created a cozy, warm, and “At Home” atmosphere that is seldom matched. My mother, Grandma, and an aunt or two, would be hustling about, seemingly doing several things at once, as preparations for the afternoon’s feast progressed on schedule.

We were quickly hustled out of the kitchen — and out of the way — but not before I was given a large cup of hot chocolate to take to the living room where my uncles would be waiting; watching the the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from New York. Even on the “state-of-the-art” low resolution, black and white, 12 inch screen, I liked the parade; the floats, the bands, and the balloons. The crowds and the occasional street views of 6th Avenue and 34th Street, so very different from small-town, mid-western Aurora, were fascinating to me – being like every other little kid of my time.

Other than last week’s Notre Dame highlights (sponsored by The Plaster Institute), there wasn’t too much football on TV in those days – especially on a Thursday, holiday or not — so my uncle’s and my dad chatted while they half-heartedly watched. Occasionally one of the ladies would take a break from the kitchen and watch the parade for a few moments, with commentary on how wonderful it all looked.

The parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus, signaling the start of the Christmas season; the parade was sponsored by a department store, after all. But Thanksgiving, and the extended autumn weren’t over just yet. After the end of the parade, and a bit of brief post-festivities commentary, there was a return to normal weekday programming. In due time the TV was turned off, however, as it was getting to be almost time for Dinner.

Our “dining room” – the not so large space between the kitchen doorway, and the large archway to the living room – had been transformed. The modest table within had grown, by means of something called leaves, and was now covered with a spotless white cloth. On the cloth, along with a couple of candles, were dishes, glass and silverware which were only seen a couple of times a year. The men were pressed into service and began filling the strategically located empty spaces on the table with all of the traditional foods of a Thanksgiving Dinner, crowned of course by a large, golden brown, wonderful smelling turkey.

Not being a toddler, or an infant – as my brother and my two cousins then were – I also helped; carrying baskets of rolls, and trays of olives, and the like to the table. When it came time to sit, there was no lesser “kids table”. All of my “peers” had high-chairs and I sat right there at the table with the grown-ups. There’s not much to say about the dinner itself, other than it was wonderful. I responded to an occasional question, but I mostly didn’t chat much during the meal. Although I listened closely to what was being said around the table (You can learn a lot by paying attention), I was much too busy eating to join in.

After dinner the table was cleared, and the kitchen put in order — with but brief, lethargic, and half-hearted efforts by the men. But I was certainly volunteered to help. It was important to clean up right away, for the table would be needed again, in an hour or so, for coffee and home-made pie. The delayed coffee and dessert was every bit as good as the dinner, but by the time we were finished things were starting to get a bit hazy for me, and the next thing I knew I was of waking up the next morning in my bed, with no memory of how I got there.

As I lay there, I soon realized that 1) It was a Friday, and no school, and 2) it was now Christmas time. So I got up and had a bowl of corn flakes to fortify me as I prepared to meet the new season head-on.

Thanksgiving – Part One: Morning

Though earlier and later years offered different experiences, the fondest Thanksgivings of my memory are those of my grade school years, which started well before dawn and seemed to just fade to a close in the not so late evening.

Those long-ago days would begin with an early morning ride with my father, in the ‘50 Plymouth, through the still dark countryside south and east of Aurora. We would park in the barnyard of the Haag farm on Wolf Road, which seemed to me, at the time, to be a very long way from home. We would gather our stuff, and then walk a goodly distance past fence lines and hedgerows, past and between fields of both harvested and still standing corn. There to await the dawn; when, with the coming of the light, it would be permissible to hunt for pheasant and rabbit.

We would find a suitable spot and settle in to await the sunrise. Dad would break out a thermos, and there we would sit; just the two of us, alone in the half light, in what seemed to me to be a wilderness, for a few precious moments talking and sipping strong, hot, black coffee from paper cups. It tasted awful, but it was “a man’s drink”, and I drank it; proud to be there sharing it with my Dad.

When it was full light, Dad would pack the thermos, load the shotgun, and we would set off into the corn. His interest was pheasants, and that’s where they were to be found. Rabbits on the other hand lived along the fence lines, and were almost too easy. Dad would take a rabbit or two, in  the course of the morning, but would refuse to eat them unless “we had had a hard freeze”, which he said was required to kill some kind of bacteria which lived within them. Later, before we left for home we would give the rabbits to the farmer as a way of saying thanks for access to the land. The farmer would grind them up as feed for the feral cats which helped to reduce the numbers of other critters; unwanted residents of the barn and silos.

But it was pheasants that Dad liked to hunt, partly because they tasted so good, and partly because they were so difficult. Pheasants would hide in the corn and not fly, even if you walked closely past them. They would usually fly only if they felt threatened, or if, as I once did, you stepped on one. Then they would fly up — startlingly, past your face — and into the autumn wind, which bore them quickly away. But Dad was quick with the shotgun, and a good shot, so if he would see one he would usually get one.

I would follow safely along behind, or in a rear quarter, wearing a smaller version of Dad’s hunting vest – the kind with large pouches sewn in, so I could do my part and carry a pheasant, or a couple of rabbits.

By midmorning it was time to hike back out of the fields and unburden myself of the rabbits. We would stop at the farm house to say thank you and goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Haag (Don and Bertie – family friends and distant relatives through marriage). Then it was back into the ‘50 Plymouth for the long drive home, where the other best part of the day would begin.

A Weekend in Boston: The Beacon Chambers Hotel

The accommodations upon which we settled for our night in Boston was the typical choice for a couple of sailors in a strange city and on an extremely limited budget. The Beacon Chambers was inexpensive and adequate. What this meant in practical terms was that it was very cheap, but not a complete hovel. Another feature, not surprising in retrospect, was that it proved to be somewhat dangerous.

After checking in, we went back out for the evening, returning and settling in at about 11 PM (it had been a long day). We quickly became aware of an ongoing argument between two “guests” in the room across the hall. Rather than an argument, or confrontation, it was really more of a continuing series of bellowed beratements, occasionally answered by groveling supplication.

Before turning in, I made the trip down the hall to the communal washroom, and on my way back I knocked on the door across the hall – which was standing open by about 6 inches. As I did so I called out “hey, you think you could keep it down?”. The first thing I heard in response was the groveling voice pleading “no, please don’t”. At the same time I saw, through the gap in the door, a portion of a rather large man turning toward the door. The motion exposed his arm to view, and in his hand I saw what was more than a rather large knife.

I immediately did the logical thing, spinning and scurrying into our room; slamming and locking the door. Very shortly thereafter, there was a gentle tap on the door, and an altogether reasonable sounding voice asking if we would “come out and talk it over”. As we refused the request, we noticed for the first time the cracks in the door panels, and how extremely thin the door itself seemed to be.

After a few more taps, the unwanted visitor went back to his room, from which we heard growls and grumbles. Meanwhile we searched our room for weapons, the most intimidating of which was the small glass ash tray on the nightstand. After several more taps at our door – at about 15 minute intervals — and more requests to come out into the hall, our neighbor must’ve finally turned in for the night. Something we managed not to do, spending balance of the night awaiting the next knock.

Shortly after dawn broke, we gathered our belongings and timidly ventured into the hallway, ready to make a run for it. But there was no need, as everyone else in the hotel was apparently sleeping in. Free at last of the Boston Chambers Hotel, we found a nice, and somewhat distant, spot for breakfast before resuming our sightseeing until it was time to ride the Greyhound back to Newport.


A Weekend in Boston

During the USS Tutuila’s month in Newport, a shipmate and I decided to see Boston; its historic sites, and any other entertainments which we might encounter. So, with liberty passes in hand, we again rode the Greyhound north, this time bound for the red brick city of Boston.

Despite the cold weather, and a couple of traumatic events, we did see the sights and manage to have a pretty good time. We saw the old North Church, and the statue of Paul Revere in the small park across the way. We boarded and toured “Old Ironsides”, in the midst of the then still active Boston Navy Yard. While in the Charlestown section we visited the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, climbing to the top of what is actually Breed’s Hill and then to the top of its monument to the fierce revolutionary war battle which was fought there (“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”). In the tall spire’s narrow observation space we enjoyed a spectacular, if quite frigid, view of Boston and the Charles River.

At some point on Saturday afternoon, as we wandered lost through the meandering ex-cow paths which are the streets of central Boston, we found ourselves in an area referred to as the “Combat Zone”. Based on reputation alone this was not a part of town we would’ve chosen to visit, but being world-weary 19-year-old sailors we pressed on, undaunted by the sordid surroundings. It was just then, however that the first major event of the day took place, as the boiler in the basement of a nearby hotel quite dramatically exploded.

I don’t believe anyone was really injured, and after the initial shock it was quite exciting as police and fire units converged from all directions, taking charge, keeping back crowds of gawkers – including us – and somehow dealing with a number of dazed hotel guests and staff who seemed to be just wandering about. We stayed, and rubber-necked some more, and were entertained by the action until it dawned on us that we needed to get about finding a place to stay for the night. The choice we made led to the second event of the day (or night actually).

After a brief search we decided to spend our night in a modest (meaning cheap) lodging called “The Beacon Chambers”. I had heard of Beacon Street, and of course of Beacon Hill in Boston and assumed that this meant we were in an okay part of town; an assumption which proved to be almost, if not entirely, not true.

To Be Continued.


The Last Out of the Game

I’ve commented before on the fact that I was never really very successful in team sports. But when I was in the 4th or 5th grade I was in a softball league, perhaps organized by the local Cub Scout troops (?), where I did reasonably well — with one notable exception. There was a summer evening game at Beaupre Elementary School, played in the school’s small dusty diamond on the corner of Ohio Street and Galena Blvd. I was sort of familiar with the area. Sometimes on my family’s after dinner drives, we would stop for a cone at the Dairy Queen, right across the street from the field.

Games in this league were fairly typical for 9 or 10-year-olds. Some kids rode from Bardwell School with the coach to the “away” game. Some, like myself on this evening, were driven by their parents. Parents sometimes, but not always, showed up to watch the play, and were not, in any case, the fanatical fans that parents seem to have become in more recent years.

As a team, we had no fixed positions, and in the games players would rotate, so that in the course of a game everyone played everywhere. A notable feature of our games however was that, again unlike modern times, we kept score. And the score mattered.

Toward the end of this particular game, with one inning to go, and the visiting team, us, holding the lead, it was my turn to rotate to pitcher. I assumed the mound with some confidence – we had a big lead, after all – and I got the first two guys out fairly easily. One out to go. The next batter got a hit, and with him standing on first base, something happened.

From that moment on, I could absolutely not get the ball over the plate. I walked the next batter on four pitches. That’s okay, I thought, we had the lead and needed only one out to win the game. I walked the next batter on four pitches. It became a procession, as each time I threw the ball four times — in the general direction of home plate — the batter and runners would trot to the next base. I could see pity in the umpire’s eyes, and the relish with which each new batter confidently strode to the plate, as the runs began to score. The longer this went on, of course, the worse I got.

But I kept trying; we still needed just one out to win the game. And so, while this vital fact still remained true, another, previously unplanned, rotation took place and I was shifted to third base. A teammate took over on the mound and I was relieved in more ways than one. And wouldn’t you know it, the very next pitch resulted in a pop-up to the left side of the infield — which I camped under and deftly caught. And the game was won.

After the home team sullenly walked off the field, and our equipment was neatly packed in the coach’s station wagon, we retired to the Dairy Queen across the street; where my teammates indicated that all was forgiven as they complimented me on my game-winning put-out. Funny how things work out sometimes.

Another curiosity — perhaps. For the rest of the season I somehow never again rotated to the pitching position.