Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Memories

 This is cross posted at, the site about the film that will "rock your face off."  (That quote belongs to my co-writer and director...)

Happy Thanksgiving from Skinned Knees In Short Pants and the tambourine playing trio at Cowboys Versus Indians (Ambarish Manepalli, Geoff Quan and me).

Happy Thanksgiving from New York!

Written by Chris VanDijk, co-writer, Cowboys Versus Indians: The Movie (2012)

I have been writing about Thanksgiving for nearly four years and yet somehow, engrossed in the tale of our characters, I have had little chance to reflect upon the Thanksgivings of my youth save the remembrances of pick up football games and the feast itself.

Looking back now I am struck by the vivid memories that I seem to have locked away just for this post:  The snows of Utah blanketing the Salt Lake valley and the purple veins of the rock peaking out of snow covered mountains surrounding us, the crispness of frozen air in my nose and lungs, the emptiness of a ski slope on a holiday. 

There are family memories, of course, most notably my Grandma L’s kitchen in Green River, Wyoming, where the red rock formations and flat plains blow and drift with snow, the Green River frozen to a crawl.  I remember my mother staying up with her all night making her famous stuffing.  As a teenager I would stay up late, just to get the first taste with them.  It is one of my three earliest food memories along with my Grandma V’s Dutch and Indonesian feast on New Years and my mother’s chicken and polenta.  It is what drew me into the kitchen and perhaps why I find myself there so often, crafting food infused with love.  It’s how I was raised.

I still stay up late, this year dissecting a turkey late into the evening.  A full turkey for a two adults and a toddler is overwhelming.  And also meals for weeks.  Thanksgiving is not only a celebration of overabundance, but a time to consider our humility and frugality.

I remember my cousins, their blond hair and pink skin so different from mine, and riding down the snowy hills on anything with a slick bottom that would propel us.  No helmets.  Nearly every Thanksgiving or Christmas was spent with them. 

I remember Uncle D’s comb-over.  I remember staring at the beer steins in my Grandpa L’s cabinet, made of some kind of ceramic with hand written notes marking an event sitting next to his photos with the members of his mine rescue team.   I remember my Grandpa V’s photo in his Sherrif’s uniform in front of the Utah state capitol.  I remember aunts and uncles and distant cousins.  I remember the children’s table. 

I remember antelope bounding in herds of thousands across the relatively flat lands of the Utah/Wyoming border.  Drive through there today and you’ll be lucky to see one. 

I remember Johnny Cash on the television, my Grandpa V’s slippers, my father’s smoked turkey, my Uncle J grinding left over turkey into a spread with cheddar cheese, bread and butter pickles and a little mayo and mustard (and loving it), and my Grandpa L’s wool and leather winter hat.
I remember my first Thanksgiving with my wife’s family sixteen years ago, and it was awkward… we were just kids then.  I remember standing with my soon to be father-in law and not being able to figure out if the smoked turkey was done and having to call my father for advice.  We ate a turkey-less feast that year and then had turkey sandwiches later that night.  I remember introducing my eigh- month old son to my wife’s entire family, four generations, as we cruised the Caribbean and I chose to forego tradition and I ate lamb for Thanksgiving on the ship.

And I remember football. 

I can remember every living room where we watched it on the holiday.  I remember playing pick up games in the street with friends and a nerf football in front of our home in Salt Lake.  And when that couldn’t hold us anymore we’d sneak onto a field, whether it be the windy field of Green River High School or the frozen, iced over Highland High School gridiron or the beautiful view provided by my alma mater, Judge Memorial High School.  We’d hop the fence, toss over a hard leather ball, put on our gloves and hats and play.  Our attire evolved as we grew up from four layers of thermals, ski bibs and parkas, to sweats and sweatshirts to the complex fibers of branded attire and therma-core-compression-wear-goodness. 

The last time I was able to play an honest to goodness knock down drag out was over ten years ago.  Although NYC is one of the great cities of the world, a pick up game on a field on Thanksgiving is not one of the things it easily affords.  And this saddens me.

My last game, I drove my truck to the field and geared up.  I’d pulled out my old h.s. football gear, my tacky receiver gloves, towels, wristbands and cleats and pretended to be Jerry Rice or Ronnie Lott, emulating the greats I’d watch later that day as I settled my stuffed self in for an afternoon nap. 

It was slow motion smash-mouth.  We’d felt like giants. 


Driving home to my small apartment in the avenues.  I passed a 6’9, 250 lb. beast on a Harley Davidson, decked out head to toe in fringed black leather on his way home from an early morning practice.  I looked over at Karl Malone, still in his prime, sitting astride his bike at a stop light and we gave each other a wave and a nod - two warriors heading home to grab a drumstick and feast.

Today we create new memories: a toddler’s first turkey, the joy of decorating the house, making creations out of glue, fallen leaves and popsicle sticks, standing in the cold with hot drinks watching the Macy’s parade, walking through the red/yellow/brown trees of Central Park, trying to put a parka on a squirmy little one and tracking down a missing boot, making pumpkin and five spice or sweet potato and toasted marshmallow ice creams and sharing with friends, rediscovering holiday classics with family and realizing that I am the grown up and the traditions and the memories of my past are all flowing through me into this small person, teaching him lessons I learned long ago. 

And curling up with him on the couch to watch the Lions and the Packers while he points at the screen and says, “ball?”

Yes, son, ball.

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1 comment:

  1. lovely, Chris, lovely! It is such an interesting thing to watch the traditions-new & old-through the toddler eyes, isn't it? More than a few times over the past few days of massive cooking endeavors that (somewhat self-imposedly--I feared it might have otherwise been a KFC or diner Thanksgiving!!!) fell into my lap this year, did I stop & get teary-eyed because although I was 'busy cooking', girl was still picking up what I was serving-[heh, heh, ahem, so to speak!] ;-) I guess we were kind of organically creating a few new traditions of our own & I didn't really even realize it...but most importantly, the efforts weren't lost or taken for granted. And that's all I want--to remember it all & appreciate it for what it is!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you & your family! (you make me want to grind up some leftover turkey w/ some cheese!!!)