” Oh Thanksgiving- Oh!”

” Oh Thanksgiving , Oh Thanksgiving. How we greet you as in days of yore. Coming as you do in autumn when the summer ain’t no more. Oh Thanksgiving, Oh Thanksgiving, Oh!”

At the beginning of most Thanksgiving dinners in my house growing up, my Grandmother Reynolds would always recite this crazy little poem. We all would laugh and any new people or strays as they were called, would look at each other in bewilderment and wonder – ” what was that?” But Thanksgiving in our house was always a big deal. My mom was a heck of a good cook and she would make several turkeys, mounds of stuffing and potatoes, gravy and all the fixings for all of the relatives and those friends whom she felt needed a helping hand or lift at the holidays. She and my dad always worked so hard to make it nice and the meal was off the charts delicious. My favorite meal of the year. Plus, with my mom being the consummate entertainer, the house always looked festive and the fireplace was roaring because my mom thought of it all as entertainment and our house as a stage.

Fast forward and my dad bought a green Buick station wagon to pick up all the relatives. At 16, that was my job, and we laughingly called the station wagon the “ambulance” with the advancing age of my relatives. In fact, when they had too many Manhattans at my house, which I always made to help my dad, the term ambulance took on a serious meaning because I literally had to pour them into the station wagon in various stages of inebriation- they were Irish you know. My mother’s Aunt Lee would always be looking for her glasses after too many highballs which were invariably perched on the top of her head. My mother’s cousin would be putting the ignition key into his side window of his car. I told him to sit tight and I would take him back home later. The Manhattans were lethal and my dad’s eggnog was even more so. Octogenarians tended to be fragile anyhow and after several bombs served at my folks house, they only had one recourse- home in the ambulance.

It got to the point eventually when the ” ambulance” became only the delivery vehicle as we got older and my sister and I were in charge of delivering the Thanksgiving meal to all the elderly relatives who really could not make the trek to my folks house any more. I can remember many a Thanksgiving spending the whole afternoon delivering 5 complete turkeys and the accompanying dinner to each of the relatives, helping them get it ready, saying grace with them, and then headed on to the next stop. My mom and dad were amazing in their zeal for Thanksgiving and to make sure that all of our family in some way was together with at least a good homecooked Thanksgiving dinner.

Oftentimes I was beat up before I started the deliveries with the neighborhood Turkey Bowls. The Slippery Rock kids and the Clarion kids who played football, took great delight knocking all of us younger neighborhood kids into the middle of next week at the annual football fest. I was careful not to get hurt before ski season, but can remember catching many passes and then getting absolutely creamed by a kid who played college football. My dad would come over to the field and tell me to start getting ready for the deliveries in the green station wagon and believe me, I was happy to leave.

When I think back on those days, I marvel at my folks who made entertaining an art form. They were very generous to my relatives and also our neighbors and the time spent on making 5 turkey dinners amazed me. They did it as a team and even to a young kid, it was impressive. Even more so as I look back today. I am grateful for my parents and the generous spirit in which we were raised.

I remember asking them why they went through all the effort and my mom’s famous line was always” Patrick- happiness is like a perfume that you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself.” I really think that they got more happiness out of doing those nice things than the people that they served.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here in that in this day and age of isolation due to Covid, a polarized political climate, and general uncertainty. The need for reaching out is even more paramount than in my parent’s day. There will be a lot of people this year spending Thanksgiving without their family. It will be a strange year and yet, if we all pitch in and sprinkle a little bit of that perfume, we all will be better off until things return to normal someday. Even in these hard times, we all have a lot to be grateful for. I am thankful every day for many things and even though this year will not be shared with relatives and friends, I will be happy to look at my wife and say , ” things will get better real soon.” Thanks for reading and reach out to someone who might want to hear from you. Sprinkle some of that perfume.

That Great Smell

The Mountain TV

You know, my mother started me on my love for fires. We had a huge fireplace in our house growing up and at the first sign of cold weather, my mom would ask my dad to build a fire as she decorated the house for fall. My mom was the ultimate entertainer and to her, the house was a stage. My dad used to get firewood cut to 36″ to match the large fireplace and grate. He had some real blazes in that house.

Going forward, I had that appreciation for fires as I made my way through ski lodges, and anytime I had a moment to stand by a fire, I would do it, and take in the warmth and the great smell of wood smoke. In Colonial Williamsburg, one of my favorite destinations, they build fires on the street corners in the winter and the period actors discuss the merits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness warming themselves in front of those ” army stacked” blazes.

I took matters into my own hands when we built our last house and had Teddy Hall come down from the mountains and build a 30’retainer wall, fireplace and bench all out of stone from the mountains. I learned what a shiner was. It is the flat facing stone that is strategically placed amid the dry stack of the stones that give some texture to the stacked stone. Teddy deposited 18 ton of stone in our yard and began his magic culminating in what I always thought was a spectacular fireplace.

My son Jack and I would scour for deadfall with my chainsaw and load up my Jeep with free firewood. He was a bit concerned as a young kid about my sources but I explained that we were doing a favor to the environment. At least that is what I told him. LOL!! Anytime I saw wood that was available, I grabbed it and did whatever I needed to do to get it cut and split. All part of the process of building a great fire in a great fireplace. We had fires all year long as it is a great bug zapper in the summer and a warm place in the winter. Many nights I spent in front of that fireplace contemplating what was next in our lives. When my folks passed, I used to sit out back and look up at the stars wondering where exactly they had gone. I saw heaven in those stars and planets and thought about what my folks saw now? Did they see me looking for them? I drifted off to sleep many nights in front of that fireplace. My brother in law, Duke, called it the Mountain TV as it provided entertainment for many guests to our house for many years.

The suspect Christmas wreath.

Duke would build fires so large in our fireplace that he would catch the Christmas wreath on fire many a night. The remnants of that wreath were a reminder of Christmas and a tradition that lasted many years. If the wreath didn’t catch fire, Duke didn’t build it big enough and Christmas was not complete. We had some other funny times in front of that fireplace. Like when my friend Dean melted the soles of his shoes onto the hearth. I peeled them off the next day and mailed them back to him. I have seen some other amazing things at other fireplaces. Like ski boot shells melting or gloves smoking as they hung to dry with the owners frantically trying to salvage the boots and gloves. People don’t realize how hot a fireplace can get.

The other day, I was riding my mountain bike and I smelled wood smoke coming from the house in the valley below. I can pick up that smell from far away and it always brings a smile to my face and a reminder that my favorite time of the year approaches- the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter. Probably one of the things I miss the most in moving from my former house to our current one is the fact that I had to leave my fireplace. No more wood smoke, no more sitting out back, but my neighbor Tim has a nice fireplace and when I smell the wood smoke drifting my way, I am thankful that he invites us to come up and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I like where we live but it was tough to leave the Teddy Hall masterpiece.

Laurel Mountain Outdoor Fireplace

If you have a nice fireplace- use it. And if you visit ski areas, lodges, or other places where fireplaces are lit during the season, take the time to sit and take in the smell, the warmth, and the quiet time reflecting in front of a roaring fire. Thanks for reading and RIP Teddy Hall. You made our life rich indeed. Thanks for reading.

The Ambulance

Posting a little early this week to usher in the Holidays. I wanted to tell you about another automobile and the passengers who made it special. 73-buick-estate-wagon-dv_09_gc_01

My mother was a fabulous cook. She loved to entertain. She got off to a rough start with my paternal grandfather John H McCloskey Sr. when he and my grandmother came early to dinner one day.It was in the first year of my mom and dad’s marriage. Flustered, my mom hurried as best as she could and after the grace, when my grandfather dug in, he remarked,” Carol, I have seen chickens hit on the road that were done better than this.” My mom was devastated but redeemed herself over the years with her entertaining and cooking for my demanding relatives. Enter the “ambulance.”

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My mom had a habit of inviting all of the in-laws and the out-laws to our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. When they became too old to drive themselves, I became the chauffeur with my sister in tow and we went and picked them all up in the Buick station wagon. Now my relatives were not shy about taking a “nip” or two before dinner and at their advancing age, sometimes it hit the fan. My mothers maiden aunts, Mamie and Lee Reynolds would chug the cocktails and begin the long, slow slide under the table to be set upright, back in their chairs by yours truly. They had a habit of looking for their eyeglasses during this pre-catatonic state which were neatly perched on the top of their heads. My paternal grandfather had a habit of talking in a loud voice which he thought was whispering. ” How is your drink mother?”, he said to my grandmother. When she said it was ok, he remarked, ” Kind of watered down if you ask me.” He liked a strong belt and I became an expert at plowing them with high test Manhattans. img_1205

The dinners over the years were fabulous and the rides home were stuff of legend. Molly and I would pour Mamie and Lee onto the couch back on Rankin Avenue and begin the extra routing to the North Side and Bellevue with whomever was a passenger at the time. My dad’s aunt Ann would insult her sister in law ( my paternal grandmother), and the donneybrook became vocal in the ambulance.

Soon the time came when the ambulance became the delivery vehicle because the old folks were too feeble to come out to the house any more. Molly and I would have a station wagon full of turkey dinners complete with all the trimmings and deliver them all day to the relatives, stopping briefly to converse with them and make them the obligatory Manahattans in their homes. My mother cooked for days in order to provide multiple dinners for Thanksgiving because she didn’t want anyone to be alone especially the in-laws, and the out-laws.

As I think back about my elderly relatives, I have many smiles because they truly were characters. When you age, your world tends to shrink and survival mode kicks in. It was amusing to see the view of the world from their perspective which was all about them. I was truly blessed to have the experience of driving them,being with them, and enjoying the spectacle that was the Holidays. I loved being with the old folks and was particularly close to my maternal grandmother and grandfather, Mary and John Reynolds. img_1206

The “ambulance” finally gave up the ghost one year and the deliveries dwindled as the old folks passed on to their eternal rewards. But, when I think of those days of huge meals at Pineview Driveimg_1199 and the subsequent deliveries of copious amounts of food in the old station wagon, I smile and want the tradition to continue. My wife Janet loves to cook and we are having some elderly friends of my mother in law’s over for dinner this Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to it because it reminds me of traditions that must continue in this country. Take care of the relatives, help to feed those who are not as fortunate by way of a donation, or volunteering. And pass on the importance of family to the younger generation who look to us for example. Enjoy the Holidays and thanks for reading.