It's hard to imagine what doing without really means when you haven't done without. I know I have always had a hard time understanding really being hungry because I have been lucky and have had much of what I needed my whole life. But even those of us that have never really gone hungry, always had a roof over our heads and have pretty much been able to afford what we needed can get a glimpse of that life if we try.
I remember my first encounter with viewing what it was like to do without food and real love; I remember it like it was yesterday, yet I was only 7 years old. In fact it was 50 years ago this Thanksgiving that I realized how much I had and how many others did without.
That Thanksgiving in 1959 was a glorious one for a little boy in my position. In retrospect, it was the best Thanksgiving ever because it was the last time my family was living together in one unit on turkey day. There would be many more times we would be together for Thanksgiving, but never again would I wake up in the same house where my sisters and my mother and father slept on Thanksgiving eve.
That (1959) was the year my oldest sister had graduated from high school and during that fall she was attending "beauty school" as it was known then. Now it is known as cosmetology. By the next year she was married and gone. My other sister was just a sophomore in high school, but in not too many years down the road she would get married too and spend her first Thanksgiving away, living in North Carolina where her husband, who was a Green Beret, was getting ready to go to Vietnam.
But on that Thanksgiving everything and everybody was there. My two uncles who had operated our dairy farm with my dad for three decades came to dinner as they always did. That afternoon during a strong snowstorm that moved in right after dinner, my cousins showed up and we played until they had to go home. I had a lot of great cousins, but those two were my favorite when I was a little boy.
Then there was the time away from school. The next morning I woke up and I could play to my hearts content for the day. About mid-morning one of my friends called and asked if he could come over with another friend of ours and play at my house.
They arrived just before noon and my mother offered to fix lunch for all of us. Soon we were sitting at the kitchen table dining on tomato soup and turkey sandwiches as we talked about what we were going to get for Christmas that year.
My friend Steve boasted about how Santa always brought him everything he wanted and I replied how Santa usually gave me what I wanted too. Our friend Alan, who had come with him, didn't say much. When my mom asked if we wanted another sandwich, Steve and I said we were full. Alan on the other hand went on to eat three more turkey sandwiches, which my mother gladly supplied.
All afternoon Steve and I talked about how wonderful a Thanksgiving we had yesterday. Alan just played with my toy cars on the floor as we built cities out of boxes and ran my electric train set around the rails that were sitting on my mothers hard wood floors.
Steve left later that afternoon but Alan asked if he could stay. Later my mother invited Alan to dinner and as it was getting dark she said my dad could drive him home after he came in from milking the cows.
Dinner-turkey soup and my mother's wonderful rolls, which we had smelled baking all afternoon-was great. When we went in the kitchen to peek at the food, my mom's homemade chocolate pudding was also waiting with homemade cream sitting ready in a bowl in the fridge, ready to accept the beating and sugar it would surely get from my mother.
Alan ate a lot that night and then my dad took him home. I had never been to his house before, so I was excited. As we pulled up I saw there were no lights on in his small white house with paint peeling off it.
"My mom isn't home," he said. "I can get in by myself." My dad said I should walk him to the door. He opened the door and the house was almost bare of furniture; three little dogs ran out. I walked in and Alan turned to me. "Thanks for letting me come over," he said. "That was the best food I have had in a long time."
"Didn't you have Thanksgiving dinner yesterday?" I said in my naivete. I also found that it was very cold in the house.
"Yeah we did, but my mom didn't have much money so we ate tuna casserole for dinner. Then she went out with her boyfriend and left me here alone."
"I thought you had a brother that lived here with you?" I said.
"He's in jail right now," said Alan. "Anyway he isn't really my brother anyway. He is one of my mom's boyfriends kids. He just lives with us."
I knew my dad was waiting. I walked out the door and the three little dogs ran back in. I said goodbye and that was that until Monday when we went to school. Alan and I remained pretty good friends until he was about 12 then things changed. He started to get into a lot of trouble at school and finally with the police when he was 14. Soon he was hanging around with kids that I didn't like to be around and we parted ways.
But every once in a while I would run into him. Murray was not as big a town then as it is now. And even though our lives were going in different directions, he'd always have to talk to me about that Thanksgiving, the day we ate tomato soup and turkey sandwiches at my parents kitchen table. Even the last time, when we were 19 he remembered.
"That was the best Thanksgiving I ever had," he said as he stood by an ice machine at 7-11 where I had run into him. He poked a cigarette in his mouth, and got a tear in his eye. "Tell your mom thanks again for me, will you?" Then he got into a junky old car with a woman and two little Alan-like faces staring over the dashboard at me.
I have often wondered, especially at Thanksgiving time where he and those cute little faces are today.