Here's Johnny - My favorite Thanksgiving
There was such overwhelming support for last year’s Thanksgiving edition of Here’s Johnny – well, my mom and her brothers liked it a lot – that I thought a revival was in order. Dear Readers who think I’m merely turning in an old column to meet a one-day-sooner holiday deadline are hereby requested to swim laps up and down Elkhorn Creek immediately after a third helping of turkey and stuffing.
There was one mistake, which I won’t correct: Uncle Tom, whom you’ll meet in a moment, told me later that he thought he and Aunt Pat were still in Texas then and did not attend that particular Thanksgiving. Still, Pat framed the column and mounted it on a wall of their lake house (not cabin!) near Lake Cumberland. I have yet to leverage the column into a weekend there – just to make sure it’s mounted properly – but hope springs eternal.
Anyway, I hope you like it.
I’ve had a lot of wonderful Thanksgivings, but until I win the lottery on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving of 1971 will probably remain my favorite.
When I was growing up, we celebrated Thanksgiving with Mom’s half of the family. Thirty-plus Duncans and Cavanaughs and others would gather in Bowling Green or Lexington or Louisville or Hopkinsville. In retrospect, I think hosting duties were rotated in an effort to spread the Thanksgiving prep-related nervous breakdowns, but kids don’t consider such things.
What they do think about, especially if they’re lads, are food, family and football – especially for me, that year, the latter. For that was the day that I placed and won my first bet on what has since been called The Game of the Century.
Let me set the table, so to speak.
We got together at my Grandmother Duncan’s big stone house in Bowling Green that Thursday, Nov. 25. (For several years afterward, I thought Thanksgiving always took place Nov. 25. I use Google Calendar now.) Grandma had been widowed four years before, but it seems everyone she was even remotely related to was there:
Her four children, my Mom and her three younger brothers, Parker, Kelly and Tom (yes, I have an Uncle Tom, and yes, he does have a cabin – or to be more precise, a lake house); Grandma’s brother-in-law, my Great Uncle Docky (who was, believe it or not, a doctor) and his wife, Elizabeth (or Lib, as we called her – either all the children had speech impediments or Duncans just liked nicknames); the Duncan clan from Hazard (I thought cousin Dana’s accent was one of the wonders of the world); my cousin Dave and his family from Hopkinsville; well, you get the impression.
Thanksgiving brought together 30-plus people most every year I was a child.
But, back to what made that Thanksgiving wonderful – and profitable.
To the best of my recollection, my Uncle Tony from Hopkinsville was an Oklahoma football fan. (He may not have been an uncle – I’m terrible at lineage, and don’t know whether fathers of second or third cousins actually are uncles, and Google Calendar doesn’t explain such things). I knew more about sports than your average seven-year-old, but I don’t think I had a rooting interest until Uncle Tony offered to bet me a quarter on the game.
I believe he proposed the wager, but it’s possible I was even more precocious than I recall.
What took place that day in Norman, Okla., would be memorable even if hadn’t taken place on a holiday. Number one Nebraska came in with the top-ranked defense, while number two Oklahoma had the top-ranked offense. The 51st match-up of the rivals was a back-and-forth affair, highlighted by a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by next year’s Heisman Award winner, the Cornhuskers’ Johnny Rodgers.
Nebraska won 35-31 and Uncle Tony paid up – though I bet, no pun intended, that he wouldn’t have asked me to do the same, which is good, as I was probably broke.
Of course, the food and family were great, too, and remained so as long as we gathered. There were lots of wonderful Thanksgivings afterwards, mostly because they brought together a lot of funny, colorful characters.
Uncle Tom was and is the coolest, funniest guy I know, with Uncles Parker and Kelly close seconds.
Great Uncle Docky, that Thanksgiving or one soon afterward, taught me how to wiggle my ears. (Drop by The Sun if you need a laugh.) Lib, who died just a few weeks ago, was among the sweetest people to walk the earth.
Cousin Dana, a year older than me, never minded answering questions or having to repeat himself; a more suspicious sort might have concluded that I just liked to hear him talk.
“Aunt” Virginia (don’t believe she was related, except by marriage, and at best, she was a second or third aunt, if there is such a thing) always paid special attention to me. By age 10, I realized I had a bit of a crush on her – the first of many hopeless crushes.
Laughter and a full belly and the occasional hug are a potent mix, and let it not be said that my love of Thanksgiving 1971 was entirely a mercenary matter.
Since then, Uncle Tony has passed, as have Docky and Lib, and my Grandma Duncan (my other set of grandparents, too) and Uncle Kelly and too many others to mention. Death and the inevitable scattering of kids who turned into adults and moved away and had their own families make such gatherings smaller and more seldom.
Good memories matter, though, and I don’t even regret spending Uncle Tony’s quarter not long after I won it, fair and square, on Thanksgiving Day of 1971.