By Maria Lagalante Schulz
I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is here again. As the year rolls by, I’m reminded about all of the things that I have in my life to be thankful for. Everyone knows that they’re supposed to say “I’m most thankful for my family/friends/job/house/food on the table,” etc. Let’s just say that’s a given where I’m concerned. I don’t need a holiday where you stuff your face to remind me that I have been really blessed, although I’m glad that’s the national activity.
I've got a lot to be thankful for
So here are the Top Ten Things I’m Grateful for This Thanksgiving:
10. Occupy Wall Street has been allowed to protest
Our rights in action
Whether you embrace or reject this movement’s tenets and ideals, you have to be proud of our country. Our rights to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly have been on display, and the people who hold all the cards—the money, the access to cronies in government, and oh yeah, the money—didn’t use their power to have everyone shot. Not every country is so lucky. For all those people who grumble that the protesters should just shut up or go away, remember this: our country was founded by people who were willing to fight for the very rights that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are exercising today.
9. Dancing With the Stars is on again, and a former Veteran who almost lost his life fighting for our country is the best dancer on the floor
If you’re anything like me, you may feel pretty down some days because you don’t look your best or you feel crummy. So here comes J.R. Martinez, a young veteran who suffered severe smoke inhalation, horrendous burns over 40% of his body, and endured 33 surgeries after he drove over a landmine in Iraq.
But does he whine or complain, or talk about how the dancing bothers his old injuries? No, never. He gets out there with his dance partner, Karina, and dances his heart out. He is the most positive, beautiful person on that dance floor—and what makes it even better is the dude can dance. The finals are this week, and while I hope he beats out Ricki Lake and Rob Kardashian, I will find him inspiring either way for a long time to come.
8. No matter how much turmoil and strife there is out there, life is always beautiful at Disney World
The happiest place on earth
Everyone’s dancing and singing, fireworks go off constantly, and life’s a parade at Walt Disney World. You can raise a glass and sing along with the Oompah Band in Germany or learn how to belly dance in Morocco in Epcot’s World Showcase. Lilo and Stitch can’t wait to hug you, Goofy is on hand for some laughs, and Mickey Mouse is thrilled to see you! Of course, as my husband says, Mickey’s favorite game is “open your wallet and leave all the cash here,” but it’s still the happiest place on earth, as long as you keep the visit short enough.
7. Sister Margaret is not my 7th grade teacher any more
I failed to appreciate the beauty of having a psycho as my homeroom teacher, but let me tell you, it was all good stuff. When I was suffering through her arbitrary and unfounded hatred, I had no idea that I was gaining life skills that would serve me well throughout adulthood.
Back when I was young, I really liked almost everyone I went to school with. We were a small group who seemed to be in a world of pain, but we were in it together. Sister Margaret gave us tremendous material to use, and laugh about, for years to come. I now understand that she was a lonely person who lived with a lot of regrets, and she took that out on us.
I try to be compassionate to the other “Sister Margarets” in my life today. I also try to get a lot of material out of them for future laughs.
6. Writing is still the thing that I love to do
When I first realized that I was going to be a writer some day, I had a cheerleader in my life named Mr. Reines who would say, “you’re going to do great things!” He imagined me becoming the next Anne Tyler; published by the time I was 24 and taking the world by storm. Well, Mr. Reines is long gone, and so is my chance to get published by 24. But that’s okay. Even if I never go on to write a bestseller or the great American novel, I write because I love it and it makes me happy. Maybe I won’t be the next Anne Tyler. But I can still be the next Grandma Moses.
5. Sometimes, real love shows itself in the worst situations
Yes, it’s fun to watch romantic comedies and remember that feeling of falling in love. But everyone knows that feeling doesn’t last. It’s great to begin with, but you have to build something more substantial.
Real love shows itself when you care for someone who is sick or vulnerable and you pay more attention to his comfort and feelings then you do to your own. It shows its face when someone you love gets snubbed by friends or gets their heart broken, and you feel the pain along with them.
The movie “Yours, Mine and Ours” starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda explains this concept perfectly. In one of the final scenes, the mom’s daughter is thinking of sleeping with her boyfriend and the Dad is struggling to get the mom to the hospital to have her millionth baby.
This family makes mine seem small
Colleen North: [Helen is in labor and they’re trying to get her out the door and to the hospital] I know this is a terrible time to talk about it, but Larry says…
Frank Beardsley: I’ve got a message for Larry. You tell him this is what it’s all about. This is the real happening. If you want to know what love really is, take a look around you.
Helen North: What are you two talking about?
Frank Beardsley: Take a good look at your mother.
Helen North: Not now!
Frank Beardsley: Yes, now.
Frank Beardsley: It’s giving life that counts. Until you’re ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won’t keep it turning. Life isn’t a love in, it’s the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and ground round instead of roast beef. And I’ll tell you something else: it isn’t going to a bed with a man that proves you’re in love with him; it’s getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts.
[Leaving the house, they say good-bye to the little kids]
Frank Beardsley: I suppose having 19 kids is carrying it a bit too far, but if we had it to do over who would we skip… you?
Helen North: [getting into the car] Thank you, Frank. I never quite knew how to explain it to her.
Frank Beardsley: If we don’t get you to the hospital fast, the rest of it’s going to be explained right here!
I’m so grateful that I have someone by my side to face the drab, miserable, wonderful world.
4. Friends who have always made my life an adventure
When I was six years old, I was facing life for the first time without my twin brother beside me. Of course, he was right next-door, but I was terrified that I wouldn’t make any friends without him and his charming, funny self there beside me.
I remember the first time I saw Perette Murphy. She had pigtails, a perpetual smile on her face, and a ready laugh. I remember thinking that I would like to be friends with her, and lucky me, we became friends during the school year.
Perette would bring me home to her house, where her three sisters did a lot of yelling, crying, and screaming. Life with four girls was so different then life with six boys. For one thing, my brothers never cried. To start crying in their presence would have been like jumping into shark-infested waters holding a bucket full of chum.
The Murphy girls could cut you to ribbons with one sidelong glance and a comment about how fat or ugly you were. My brothers could be mean, but one minute, they were hitting you in the head and the next, they were laughing at your jokes. Perette’s sisters seemed to get angry and hold grudges, and they confused me.
Perette and her sisters were the ones who taught me how to hold my own in an entirely new situation, and how to even enjoy myself there. And several decades later, I’m still so thankful to be friends with that little pig-tailed girl.
3. Thanksgiving may get the bum’s rush, but I love celebrating it anyway
The big retail chains out there can’t wait to rush headlong into Christmas. I have been getting Black Friday offers since July, and when I was in Party City the week before Halloween, they had the Christmas displays ready to unveil—and that was October 20!
I refuse to let Thanksgiving pass me by without observing some traditions that I thoroughly enjoy. I love watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and still get excited when I see it advertised, even though I’ve had the DVD for years. Peppermint Patty reminds me of a lot of people I’ve known over the years, especially when she invites herself over for dinner and then complains about the menu. Hey, I think she has been to my house on Thanksgiving!
Popcorn and toast, anyone?
This time out, it’s Marci who plays the wise old soul (doing an admirable, Linus-like job) when she reminds Peppermint Patty that she invited herself, and owes Charlie Brown an apology. I think Marci is the best, even if she doesn’t seem to have eyeballs.
My husband, girls and I also love watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. I loved John Candy from back in his SCTV days, and he never fails to crack me up. The fact that he’s teamed up with Steve Martin, who I loved from the day he wore that headdress and sang “King Tut” on Saturday Night Live, means guaranteed laughs.
Who's been sleeping in my bed?
As annoying as John Candy’s character may be, I can’t help but like him. I enjoy Steve Martin’s straight man routine and find every ridiculous situation that they plunge into completely hysterical. My favorite quote from the movie is: “Those aren’t pillows!”
If I’m very lucky, I catch The March of the Wooden Soldiers on television the morning of Thanksgiving. I love Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; their timing is hilarious and they still make me laugh like it’s the first time I’m watching that movie. I also loved Stan Laurel because he reminded me of my Great-Uncle Sal; he was quiet and contemplative, but had some of the best lines in the movie. You could always count on Uncle Sal to come out with jokes well worth waiting for at the Thanksgiving table.
Finally, I love watching The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While I cook and bake, I watch the parade go by, keeping track of the floats and the imminent arrival of “the big guy.”
My father used to tell me to go downstairs and bring up my brother Jude to watch Santa’s arrival in Herald Square. Many years, I risked death at Jude’s hands because he was usually sleeping his big night off and was in no mood to see Santa, or any other living creature. Jude knew enough to come up, though, because if he didn’t, my father might just bang pots next to his head until he changed his mind.
2. I understand the importance of being prepared
When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving started in earnest for us about 4 days ahead of time. That’s when my mother would start cleaning, and I’d be sent out to the living room to dust the shelves, mantel and furniture, vacuum the carpets with baking soda, put away the piles and piles of paper that a house full of pack rats always accumulates, clean the bathrooms and start setting the table. Our one goal was to hear my grandmother come through the door and say, “Wow! The house looks so clean and doesn’t smell doggie.” That was the prize.
On the night before Thanksgiving, Mom and I would use a recipe we had from one of my Charlie Brown cookbooks and bake homemade bread. We’d make the dough and set it in bowls with a damp paper towel over it so that it would rise overnight.
The next morning, I’d hear Mom get up while it was still dark to put the 20+ pound turkey in the oven. I’d come out to join her by about 7 am, when we would knead the dough and set it to rise. My mother would pull a tray of lasagna out of the fridge and we’d put that in the oven too. Then we’d baste the turkey, start making the sides, bake cakes and pies, and finally bake the bread.
The house smelled like bread, roasting meat, and lasagna, with an added layer of cakes, cookies and pies.
As the morning wore on, my father would run into the kitchen and yell, “Maria, Santa Claus is almost here! Go wake up Jude.”
1. I know who I’d invite to my Thanksgiving dinner
For me, Thanksgiving was always the holiday that meant family and friends around a great big dining room table, lots of loud arguments and laughter, and my mother’s wonderful cooking.
I can still see my Uncle Don carving the turkey, because my father had a knack of hacking it to bits. My grandmother would be laughing herself to tears over some story that Uncle Sal was telling from his vaudeville days. My mother would be running back and forth to the kitchen and then, finally, sitting down to join us.
My father, mother and brothers were shouting over one another, telling stories about their jobs, the gigs at nightclubs with New York’s Unemployed, and school. My grandmother would tell us about life as the president of her Senior Citizens Group and Uncle Don would describe how much he hated helping women try on shoes. Chris and I would jump in with our own stories about St. Robert’s or our favorite TV shows, like Barney Miller, All in the Family, or Dallas.
Sometimes, my parents would also include friends who didn’t have a place to go on Thanksgiving. Then, we’d add a second or third table that stretched out into the living room, and the noise level rivaled that of a jumbo jet. Ten different conversations were going on, and all of them were funny. I can still hear my Uncle Don laughing today.
Uncle Don, laughing
I wish sometimes that my girls and husband could come with me to Thanksgiving back when I was a kid. The table was cramped and you could barely move, but the food was wonderful, the conversation was rollicking and everybody seemed to be having a good time.
It’s hard for me to believe that my kids never knew my Uncle Sal, and don’t really have enough happy memories of my grandmother, Uncle Don, or my mother. They are so much a part of me that it seems like we should all be able to sit down together and share a Thanksgiving celebration.
I feel like my little family has missed out. But then I realize that my girls are lucky to have lots of first cousins, aunts and uncles on both sides, and we get to see them all over the Holidays. I hope one day they will be able to remember them all laughing and having a wonderful time.
And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, Charlie Brown.
My Charlie Brown Lunch Bag Cookbook has a very simple bread recipe that my mother and I used to break out every year. Go ahead and try it—you’ll like it!
This bread is delicious
All-Star White Bread
1 package dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
3 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
6 ½ cups white flour
Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water. Warm milk, 1-cup water, and butter together. Put into large mixing bowl. Add sugar and salt. Mix well. Add yeast (if the milk mixture is hot, allow it to cool before adding yeast). Add flour slowly, stirring constantly. Knead dough for 10 minutes. Set aside in a greased bowl in a warm place. Turn dough so all sides are greased. Cover bowl with a damp cloth. Let rise 1 ½ hours or until double in bulk. Punch down and knead for several minutes. Shape into 3 loaves and place in greased pans. Allow to rise until double in bulk. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and continue to bake for 35-45 minutes.
So hungry lifers…what are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving? Do you have a funny Thanksgiving memory to share? Post a comment below and let us all in on the fun.