Another Thanksgiving has come and gone and my thoughts are mixed. Bill Stokley and Betty Kenner invited me over to their house for Thanksgiving dinner and I had a wonderful time. Bill does most of the cooking and yesterday he fixed a turkey, a ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, croissant rolls and pumpkin pie and everything was delicious. Bill and I have become good friends since he moved back to McCook and our conversations with each other are always lively and spirited. It was a very pleasant afternoon.
But special days like this always makes me think back to my childhood and how different things are now than then. The women would be up working in the kitchen before I even got up on Thanksgiving morning and the meal was always served at noon in our dining room on the huge dining room table. I would be there with my mom, dad, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt and uncle and often my aunt and uncle and their kids from Des Moines, Iowa would come in too, along with my cousins from Oklahoma. Seven or eight people would be the usual number but sometimes we would have as many as twenty. We usually sat around the table for a couple of hours, talking and reminiscing while our meal digested and then the men would go out on the front porch for a smoke (almost everybody smoked back then) before they came back into the living room to watch football. The women would clean off the table and wash the dishes. I know, for many families, it's not like that anymore but I was just a kid at the time and it seemed perfectly normal to me.
As I grew up and got married, the tradition didn't change but the location did. Instead of family dinner in Arkansas, we would have two family dinners in Oklahoma; one with my wife's family in Pryor and the other with my mom and dad in Tulsa. Linda had a whole pot full of relatives so the dinners at her house packed in even more people than the ones at my house when I was growing up. So even though the names and faces had changed, the procedures were still about the same.
That lasted for 25 years until I moved to McCook to take a teaching job at the college and Linda didn't come with me. The first few years weren't bad because I would make the drive to Arkansas to be with my family and then when my boys graduated from high school, they came to McCook to live with me while they attended college. After they graduated, they moved to Lincoln to attend the University so Linda would drive up from Arkansas and I would drive over from McCook. My boys had several roommates so instead of fixing Thanksgiving dinner, we would just eat out.
Ten years ago, we did the same thing. Even though Linda and I were now divorced, we were still following the same routine for Thanksgiving so she drove up to Lincoln and I drove over. After we got back from our Thanksgiving meal, we called our oldest son Brandon who was serving in the Navy and stationed in San Diego. We were all in a good mood and it was a fun and enjoyable conversation. Linda seemed to be getting along okay, Brandon was only a couple of months away from his service in the Navy being over and I had a new love in my life that meant more to me than I thought possible.
The following Monday morning at 6 a.m., two Marines in dress blues knocked on my door at six in the morning to tell me that Brandon was dead.
That changed Thanksgiving forever.