My favorite Thanksgiving
Deadline came a day early this week. Thus, this encore and only slightly condensed edition of “Here’s Johnny.” Please send us letters about your favorite Thanksgiving, or Christmas – we’ll run ‘em. ‘Tis the season, you know.
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 became known as 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:
My parents and at least two of Mom’s three younger brothers (Tom – yes, I have an Uncle Tom, and yes, he does have a cabin, or to be more precise, a lake house – may have been absent); 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 was an Oklahoma football fan. I knew more about sports than your average 7-year-old, but I don’t think I had a rooting interest until Uncle Tony offered to bet me a quarter on the game.
What took place that day in Norman, Okla. would be memorable even if hadn’t taken place on a holiday. No. 1 Nebraska came in with the top-ranked defense, while second-ranked 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 the Husker’s Johnny Rodgers, who won the Heisman Trophy the next season.
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 was 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, 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 that Hazard drawl. “Aunt” Virginia, a lovely woman who may not have actually been related, always paid special attention to me.
Laughter and a full belly and the occasional hug are a potent mix, so 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 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.