Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Six hours.

The week of Thanksgiving my family and I would take a trip up north to Rochester, New York to visit my mother’s family and stay at my grandparent’s house.

We did not go by plane or train, oh,
We went by automobile.

The days leading up to the big six hour drive were super exciting. Yes, I was excited to see Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Bob, Uncle Tom and Bee-Bee the wonder dog; but I was also excited as hell to sit in the "big brown bomber" - aka our family car.

I had to get organized – I had six hours to kill in the giant couch-like backseat with my brother, Mike. Here are some provisions I remember thoughtfully packing for the big trip:

Hello Kitty Friendly Diary – where I could write about how excited I was! I was going on a trip!
Colored Pens and Pencils – for writing about my trip in various colors, in said diary.
Smelly Erasers – I vividly remember my “Little Twin Stars” erasers that smelled like bubble gum.
Nancy Drew Mystery NovelsSecret of the Old Clock and Curse of Blackmoor Manor  were feverishly read on these road trips.
Afghan – bright pink and green, made by my other grandmother, to keep me toasty warm.
Handi Snacks – compartmentalized crackers + “cheese,” + red plastic stick = YUM.

The car trip in itself was like a vacation. My dad would smoke in the front with all the windows rolled up (naturally, it was the late ‘70’s, and it was November) we would listen to The Doors and The Eagles on the 8-Track player, my mom would cross-stitch or write down the menu for Thursday’s big meal.

Mike and I would divide the back seat in half, with his apartment next door to my condo. It was seriously so big back there we never got in each others way. And nobody even thought about wearing seat belts, I could lay down with my afghan and take a nice nap after being exhausted from reading, writing, and eating nine Handi Snacks.

Every year on the way we would make stops at two very important places:

Stop #1: Stuckey’s Truck Stop.
Stuckey’s was famous for their pecan log rolls, soda fountain, and clean bathrooms. But my favorite part of Stuckey’s was my dad would buy Mike and me one of those invisible ink mystery books. This marked the half way point to Rochester, so helping solve a mystery with invisible ink was just what the doctor ordered. That and an egg cream.

Stop #2: Howard Johnsons.
Howard Johnsons was famous for their sea foam green walls, soda fountain, and clean bathrooms. Favorite part of Howard Johnsons? Getting a soft serve cone with the little cookie in it that read HO JO TO GO. Because there is nothing like trudging back to the car in knee-high snow with a soft serve ice cream cone in late November. Yeah!

Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family was always wonderful and special – we saw them all twice a year, so it was a treat. Mike and I shared the pull out sofa (or “davenport”, as Grandma would call it) in the living room – I remember Grandma in her housecoat (or “duster”, Grandma would call it…Grandma called normal things by different names) coming downstairs at five in the morning on Thanksgiving to get the turkey ready to put in the oven. I would get up and she would make me Cream of Wheat with lots of butter and brown sugar. I called that damn good.

Me and Grandma's wax fruit.
Mike and Uncle Bob's cap gun.

The Thanksgiving meal was delicious, Grandma and Mom worked furiously to make everything from scratch. There was a small television that my Uncle Bob and Uncle Tom would roll in halfway through the meal so they could watch football while we ate. Grandma tolerated this.

The centerpiece on the table was the same every year; it consisted of one of those felt turkey heads that you stick onto a pineapple (grandma had a bowl of wax fruit, we used the pineapple from there), along with various ceramic pilgrims, Indians, and turkeys. My twenty-something uncles would crack us all up by taking the pilgrims and making them commit suicide into their glasses of water, pools of gravy or jello molds. I remember an Indian getting chipped after Uncle Bob catapulted him across the room with his fork. Grandma was not amused.

Turkey, pineapple, and suicidal Pilgrim.

During another Thanksgiving Uncle Tom knocked Uncle Bob’s tooth out. This happened during a big Thanksgiving Day boxing match in the basement. Again, Grandma was not amused.

After five days or so it was back in the car – a sad goodbye to Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Bob, Uncle Tom, Bee Bee the wonder dog, the suicidal pilgrims and the pineapple turkey.

Until next year.

Girl pilgrims wore socks. 
Boy pilgrims wore really long khaki pants.

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