WALLY'S WORLD: Thanksgiving spurs fond family memories

Since the very first pilgrim/Indian feast in 1621, Thanksgiving has been a time of family gatherings. In my particular case, Mom was the cohesive spark that drew all the uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents together, especially from her side of the family.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, perhaps 20 to 25 relatives came to our house. I’d never get to know some of them and, at the time, I couldn’t have cared less because I only saw them once a year and they were very, very old. Like, in their 60s and 70s.

One had a funny, Polish name and might even have been in his 80s. After a few beers, he took great delight in speaking fluent Polish, which only two or three other elders at the party could understand. Those few would laugh, not because he said anything especially humorous, I suspect, but simply because he spoke the “old country” native tongue.

My father had constructed a stable, wooden extension for the dining-room table, so everyone could sit around the same surface for a truly wonderful harvest of food, which was probably similar to the menu many of you currently enjoy, including turkey, yams, cranberries and pumpkin pie.

After dinner, the men folk would set up a couple card-tables and play poker. In the course of these penny-ante games, they’d light cigars – even the fellows who generally didn’t smoke – and before long the air was terribly polluted with a thick, blue-gray fog. Of course, the women didn’t smoke cigars, but some of them lit cigarettes.

At times, it seemed like damn near everyone smoked.

It’s different today. Today, all the old relatives have passed on, including my parents – and with Mom’s death, much of the cohesiveness mentioned above has also passed away. Then too, people have moved. I have cousins in the Puyallup Valley, but I haven’t seen them for years and surely have no idea what became of their children. (If I happened to bump into one of them on the street, I’d simply say “excuse me” and move on.) I have several cousins in Seattle, but we never get together for Thanksgiving and we rarely see each other any other time. My sister is in the Olympia area and I haven’t seen her for a year or more. Within the Enumclaw city limits, I have one cousin-in-law and that’s it.

So it goes. This situation probably isn’t that uncommon among many of you. In the modern age of rapid transit and employment turnover, our large, extended families are scattered all over.

But don’t think for a moment that I’m lonesome. Far from it. I’ll spend the holidays with close friends and I’ll share Thanksgiving dinner with 18 people.

Strange enough, only one of them smokes. We send him out to the garage.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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