November 21, 2003

Homeward Bound!

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SIX YEARS, I shall be at home next week celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Six years! My God! How I have missed it!

How I have missed all the holidays for which I haven't been home over the years -- the Christmas Eves on which I returned to a dark apartment; the sterile and cookout-less Independence Days, the quiet New Year's Eves spent with a bottle of gin.

It all couldn't be helped, of course. Like nearly all Americans, I must toil for my daily bread; and when work called, I had to follow, whether it took me to sunny California or cold New England. Further, I knew what I was getting into when I took those positions, and I cannot complain. But I can thank all those who have helped make those holidays brighter, whether it was inviting me to a Christmas Eve party or bringing me a plate of turkey on Thanksgiving. They were acts of kindness which I shall always appreciate.

This year, though, it will be so very nice to go back home; to walk in from the cold and damp into the warmth and light of family and great home cooking and good conversation and all the rest of it.


THANKSGIVING, I think, is one of those holidays which are not fully appreciated until one is an adult.

Most children, if I had to hazard a guess, likely view the day as a bit of a wash. Spending time with family from whom they are not far enough away to really miss, ending up at a wobbly kiddie table with their siblings and cousins, and then watching the Detroit Lions play football -- all of these are experiences which kids are probably too young to appreciate.

For adults, though, it is an entirely different matter. We're old enough to realize how important -- and how nice -- it is to see one's family again; and to really appreciate the meal that was cooked; and all the rest of it. We are old enough to be truly grateful for the traditions which have been passed down through family history.

In my memory, those family traditions are more centered around Christmas and New Year's than Thanksgiving; although I must say I think my memory is clouded because, as a child, I looked forward to Christmas more. It wasn't just because the days were shorter and the weather was worse; there just seemed to be more time to really celebrate the holiday. I guess you could also say there was more of a run-up to the day itself. Besides, I have never been super-enthusiastic about Thanksgiving turkey* -- quelle horreur! -- even if I do very much like the side dishes.

You should know that when it comes to Christmas Eve celebrations, you can always count on a few things at the Kepple house. There will be jumbo shrimp cocktails and the blue cheese dip and pretzels served during the evening, along with a pretty fabulous buffet-style meal; there will be wine and sparkling grape juice and other drinks served; there will be family movie watching, and there will be at least one (1) gift exchange, perhaps more if we can convince my parents (Mr & Mrs Kepple). When I was much younger, my father would add in certain flourishes, such as sneaking outside in the dead of night to ring sleigh bells for a good ten minutes. Soon after, my brother and I would fall asleep, knowing full well that St. Nicholas was well on his way.

This was the highlight of a rather long run-up to the Christmas holiday, and more often than not we would spend a few days** in western Pennsylvania -- where our family's roots are -- with our extended family. I particularly enjoyed that as a child, as it usually meant a really fabulous holiday meal, to say nothing of the annual Kepple ping-pong tournament in the basement of my grandmother's home. I should note that this tourney was sometimes held around Thanksgiving, but no matter the holiday, Dad usually won the trophy -- and there was a trophy.

New Year's Day, meanwhile, is ushered in with the traditional dinner of pork chops and sauerkraut. This is for good luck. Given the way that 2003 largely went, you can be damn sure I'm going to eat that all day this time around. (Mother: please e-mail me the recipe).

Still, that's not to say at all that Thanksgiving was discounted; not in the least. It very much was and is a time of family. There were many glorious dinners with relatives from far and near, both at home in Michigan and in Pennsylvania. Those reunions and those family dinners mean as much to me now as the Christmas celebrations did, and time has made me value Thanksgiving much more than I had in the past.

And this year, I am very much looking forward to walking through the door on Thanksgiving morning and smelling a cooking turkey, and seeing my family again for the first time in almost six months. I am very much looking forward to the cranberry sauce and the green-bean casserole and the potatoes -- and especially the twenty-five pound turkey which Mother has undoubtedly bought!

For a very short while, I will get to come in from the cold.

* Don't worry. This will not come as a great shock to anyone in the Kepple household, although everyone else likes turkey much more than me. Further, as a gentleman, I can assure you that I *do* eat the turkey without complaint and I *do* like it, it's just not my favorite thing. Furthermore, I most certainly *do not* attempt to have it substituted with some un-American turkey substitute. However, I will say I am psyched about having a "Terducken" for Thanksgiving when I have a family of my own. That should make everyone happy.

** Not only would we spend a few days in Pennsylvania, we'd spend a couple of days traveling for the trip. It was eight hours from our home in western Michigan to see our family, and boy! those were some crazy trips. Horrible snow, white-out conditions, frozen car doors and windows ... it really was unbelievable some years.

That said, if any of you are making a similar trip and there's a bad storm out, stop over at Clay's Family Restaurant in Fremont, Ind. It's right off I-69, near the Indiana-Michigan line. Haven't been there in more than a decade, but the food was always pretty good.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at November 21, 2003 09:47 PM | TrackBack

Ben, Those were great holiday memories. Your family is absolutely thrilled to have you home for Thanksgiving next week for the first time in six years. You are right about Clay's. It provides the perfect dinner break enroute between Western Michigan and Western Pennsylvania. I suspect their current menu is probably identical to the bill of fare when you were last there ten years ago. Why mess with perfection?! Thanksgiving is also one of my favorite holidays. It is less hectic than Christmas and easier to reflect on the meaning of the occasion while surrounded by the comraderie of family. Don't forget to set your alarm clock Thursday morning for that 6:45 AM flight !

Posted by: Dad at November 22, 2003 05:20 PM

I just posted my comments on Homeward Bound at your previous entry entitled MIsery Delayed! Oops. Please check there! Sigh...Signed, hopeless in Cleveland!

Posted by: cousinjannie at November 22, 2003 08:04 PM