If you are lucky, your family has at least one character who adds color to your holidays. I have about 34-plus of those in my family.
Growing up, my family and I would spend our Thanksgiving holiday back from where we hailed in Minnesota. Not the fictitious town of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, with quirky stories about Mrs. Linderquist and the runaway combine — no. I’m talking about the real deal, my hilarious wack-a-doo family in the land of a thousand drunks, and where the kids may not have been above average, but were damn funny.
We would start our trip by packing up the family car for a nice, relaxing 14-hour endurance trek from Michigan to Minnesota. Nothing could be more fun than spending hours counting dead deer slumped over hunters’ cars or playing “Name that road kill.” (Is that a badger or a porcupine? I think I see a piece of elk or is it a capybara? Mmmmm — let’s make stock).
We would stay with my very Swedish maternal grandmother, who would have fit perfectly in one of Keillor’s books with her church bazaar and hot dishes, but that is not where we would spend Turkey Day, oh no. On Thanksgiving Day, we would drive up to the home of one of my father’s nine brothers or sisters. With any luck it would be my Aunt Sylvia and Uncle John’s home in Rogers, Minnesota.
Their house was a Quanset hut, complete with DYI-styled additions. This prime bit of real estate sat on State Highway 101, across from a John Deere plant, with a grave yard on one side and a corn field on the other — oh yes, it did.
By the time we got there, my already-sauced uncle John, a large man with a busted leg in a brace (he would tell you he was injured in the army but we all knew it happened while he was out whooping it up on leave) would shout at my father, “HALLO STASH, HALLO HALLO.” At the same time, his bum leg would be swinging around, taking out tables, chairs, small children, pies and anything else unfortunate enough to be in its path. The hut was home to my nine cousins, all with names that began with “J.” Moments after we arrived, Jason, Jeff, Jodi or Jimmy John (I would just make up names after awhile) would grab me or my brother by the arm and it was “go” time.
The holiday was a turkey-carb filled kegger consisting of about 40+ members of my father’s large Polish family, all crammed into the hut. It was always loud with non-stop shouting over who sucked more (the Lions or the Packers) before the big family poker game geared up. My great Aunt Jean came prepared for this game with an extra deck of royalty and aces in her purse, then pilfered quarters whenever all eyes turned to the TV to catch a touchdown.
The keg (and in my family no Thanksgiving would be complete without one) was kept in a room with what I then believed was wall-to-wall carpet. In reality, it was covered in carpet samples, most likely stolen, functioning both as stylish decor and insulation (an early interior inspiration for me). This was the room where my cousins would spend most of the day in covert operations to scam booze. My six-year-old cousin was the master.
As the day wore on so did my very proper mother’s patience. All the hootin,’ hollerin’ and TV watching was a bit more than she could take. Even though my brother and I had just spent the day laughing harder than we had for probably a year and were never ready to leave, all good hoedown-keggers must come to an end.
Fast forward to today. That hut has been leveled to expand the road. You can now drive over the spot of my fond childhood memories as you take the service road to Lowes. Many years have gone by, and now one of my 25 cousins still hosts Thanksgiving for the family every year, and every year I find myself longing to join them. Someday.