Those looking for proof that I really didn’t want to write a whole column about Thanksgiving need look no further than this classified ad from the Dec. 2, 1995, Journal Gazette featuring that one thing that makes me think of “Thanksgiving Spirit” more than anything else: a card table. Alright, that’s technically a poker table, what with the little slots for drinks and for your poker chips, but I didn’t have a whole lot of card table pictures in our archives to choose from.
To me, a card table is a bland square of particle wood and vinyl with fold out legs, the kind Dad would have to throw into the back of the Chevy Blazer every early Thanksgiving morning for the drive from Cooks Mills to Mattoon. What a treat being in the back seat just knowing we were carrying the instrument of my own Thanksgiving boredom. For I knew it was always not going to be the year I could eat at the big table with the grown folks and it was going to be yet another year of sitting at that same brown card table that I normally had my “Buck Rogers and the Battle of the 25th Century Board Game” set up on in the basement, eating just-sorta-ok-Thanksgiving food in a utility room at my grandparents’ house, wedged discreetly between the washing machine and the door to the one bathroom. Nothing enhances a plate full of unseasoned mashed potatoes and mealy chicken and noodles quite like the faint taste of All-Temper Cheer in the air and the knowledge that a wooden door within arm’s reach was the only thing separating me from some real ugly goings-on.
And on that fine scatological note, need I mention I was half-tempted just to re-run last year’s column on Thanksgiving, or better yet, find anything else to talk about? But I promise myself to stay topical when I can, so here I am once again talking about that least favorite of all my holidays, Thanksgiving. If you don’t remember from last year, here’s why: I always just wanted to stay home and do nothing; my grandparents’ house was small for even four people, let alone 15 or more; the thermostat hovered somewhere around 90; their old cabinet TV was always turned to TNN and would absolutely destroy your toe if you took the corner around it too tight; and the food was usually C-plus level at best. Seriously, there isn’t one evergreen staple of the Thanksgiving meal that doesn’t taste like pure garbage if it isn’t seasoned correctly. And again…one bathroom.
In thinking about this year’s look at Thanksgiving, I tried to really flash back to those little things I perhaps forgot about last year. So yeah, that card table. Even well into my early adolescence, I continued to bring “stuff” with me every Thanksgiving to keep myself occupied so that the seemingly endless day trapped inside a human turkey roaster would pass by more quickly. Early on this would take the form of a stack of comic books (each individually wrapped in a polypropylene sleeve of course). Later I “graduated” to a classic Nintendo Game Boy, you know, the one with puke green screen. And of course, there were always the board games. I didn’t grow up with brothers or sisters to play board games with, and my parents seemed content to avoid this experience as well, although in their defense I rarely asked them, so I knew that if I wanted a chance to finally play some of my games Thanksgiving was my chance to rope some of my younger cousins (and occasionally an uncle) to play. I distinctly remember the year my “G.I. Joe: Live the Adventure” game was a hit. You had to decide whether to “shoot high” or “shoot low” while your opponent decides to “jump” or “duck”, and you earned medals based on the outcome. If only real war could be handled that way.
But as always, it comes back to the newspaper. Because it seems like every year the Thanksgiving edition of the Journal Gazette was somewhere in that house, passed from room to room as the day went on, starting at the dining room table being leafed through for coupons by the folks getting the meal ready, or being perused in the living room after the meal by my father, eagerly waiting for dessert and chatting with Grandpa about stuff he was seeing in the classified section. Lest you think this sounds like too perfectly convenient a memory in terms of pushing the importance of the local newspaper, this is how I used the archives to peg down 1990 as the exact year I hid for some peace and quiet (in the bathroom, naturally) with the back pages of the paper and where I saw this advertisement for “Predator 2” playing at the Time and thinking, “wow…imagine who in Coles County is spending their Thanksgiving watching an alien hunter stab people with a giant spear?” Imagine my surprise upon realizing, thanks to our archives, that the tagline wasn’t “This Thanksgiving he’s in town with a few days to kill.” Dreams like that die hard.
And because I wanted to see what was going on during my peak year of being that insufferable sullen teen, I flipped through a 1994 edition and found yet another pic of even more schoolchildren looking mortified to be dressed up by their school teachers. Looking at a poor kid with his stupid hat pulled down over his face as if almost to say, “Dear God please just take the picture” and I can I totally understand, even though by the time this photo was taken I was well in my teens and thus beyond these particular rituals. Although I should really tell you sometime about the last time to date some well-meaning relative stopped the Thanksgiving food service to actually try to get us to do that “Everyone say what they’re thankful for” bit. Talk about uncomfortable.
It’s all sort of a mess, right? But that’s what Thanksgiving is: a flurry of meats and carbs and family all in search of places to make their stand. And don’t forget to have a copy of the newspaper to pass around. Who knows, maybe that sulky know-it-all 12-year-old at your Thanksgiving will hide in the bathroom with my column. I can think of no higher tribute.
And please, from me to you…have some salt out on the table.