The Thanksgiving holiday is this coming week. Recently, Mister Boomer ran across an advertisement from 1935 which read in part, “We may not all be able to afford a turkey this Thanksgiving, but we have much for which to be thankful.” That got Mister Boomer in a pensive mood. As boomers, we certainly have much to be thankful for. Parents of boomers lived through Thanksgivings in the 1930s, which was during the height of the Great Depression. Just when the country was pulling out of its worst economic maelstrom ever, World War II knocked on the door. World events didn’t exactly give our parents happy Thanksgivings through their formative years, certainly by today’s standards.
It’s Mister Boomer’s theory that their experiences had a direct impact on how the holiday would be celebrated with their boomer children. As boomers were being born after the War, these new young families set out to make a better life for their children than what they and their parents had — the mantra of every parent. The country’s economic engine was churning as the nation recovered, highways were being built, and suburban sprawl meant a home of one’s own was within reach. It is likely that that new home looked like a modern, idyllic paradise to young parents anxious to begin a new chapter of their lives. It was also something to be thankful for.
Mister Boomer’s Thanksgiving memories go back into the Eisenhower era. At that time, Thanksgiving and the Christmas season weren’t complete without the requisite trips Downtown, beginning with the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. In Mister B’s household, the children would be awakened at the crack of dawn. Sometimes there would be snow flurries, sometimes freezing rain, but always there would be cold. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal, the children were dressed in multiple layers to ward off the frigid November Midwest air and whisked into the family car. Mister B’s mom stayed at home tending to the meal, as was the custom of the era.
A short ride later, Mister Boomer’s father would pull the car into a Downtown parking garage and the family made the walk to the Boulevard to stake their space along the parade route. Mister Boomer would stand there shivering, and wondering why he couldn’t have stayed in bed a while longer and watched the parade on TV. Aside from the cold, there was the viewing challenge. Mister Boomer’s family didn’t always get the best viewing spot. The Boomer children were considerably smaller than the sea of adults surrounding them, so at times seeing any glimpse of the parade at all meant crawling through legs to try and get to the street barricade. Mister B would observe how some fathers put their children on their shoulders, while others brought along step ladders, but with three children in tow, Mister B’s dad was not able to be among them.
As the parade marched on, Mister B did occasionally enjoy a colorful float and some of the marching bands — when he could see and if the bands’ cacophony didn’t hurt his ears, that is. By the time the star of the parade — Santa Claus — drifted by to mark the close of the parade, toes and fingers were numb. The crowd always stepped through the barricades at that point and followed Santa’s float to the big department store. There, a temporary second-story entrance to Santaland was installed in the side of the building. Santa would move directly up a staircase from his float to a platform decorated in full Christmas regalia, where the Mayor was waiting to give him the key to the City. Conveniently, it was also the key to the hearts of good little boys and girls everywhere, as the crowd was informed. After a hearty “Ho, ho, ho” and wish for a “Merry Christmas,” Santa retired inside to his home for the next four weeks, and the crowd slowly dispersed.
To avoid the traffic, sometimes Mister Boomer’s dad would take the children into a coffee shop. There, they’d attempt to warm themselves and their fingers with a cup of hot chocolate. Invariably, there would be a large swirl of whipped cream on top of the hot beverage, and a candy cane with which to stir it. The Boomer family children always ate the whipped cream on top first, leaving little to stir into the cocoa. Not being a fan of peppermint or hot chocolate, this was not a ritual that Mister B enjoyed. To this day he dislikes hot chocolate, candy canes, and the cold November air.
Boomer families were divided on the best time to serve Thanksgiving dinner, as families appear to be today. For some, it depended entirely on when the bird was cooked. If that was 1 p.m., then so be it. Dinner was served. Others had a more precisely timed approach, choosing 3 p.m. or even their regular dinner times. In Mister B’s house, it was the former rather than the latter. Dinner was almost always served by 2 p.m. — whenever the big bird was finished. It had been cooking away since 6:30 a.m. in the roaster that was kept in the basement. Meanwhile, a tablecloth covered the table, which only happened on holidays. It didn’t matter that the china arrived courtesy of a weekly discount purchase for shopping at the supermarket. It was special dinnerware for special occasions only.
Most of the time, some aunts and uncles or family friends were invited to share the feast, prompting the “children’s table” to appear. Who knows when the first children’s table was set up, but boomers are well acquainted with the holiday tradition. It helped keep the children separate from the adults by design, it would seem. Was it to get a moment’s rest for adult conversation to ensue or to keep fidgety, picky eaters out of a major sight line for a while? Inevitably, the mother, an aunt or older female cousin would tend to the children at their table, seeing to it that each had the meal they wanted.
In Mister Boomer’s family the bird was the star, followed by the stuffing, sweet potatoes and that wonderful can-shaped cranberry sauce that the family ate only once a year. Vegetables were clearly down the list. It would be many years later before Mister Boomer would learn that vegetables didn’t have to come from a can. That’s a trait shared by many boomers… was it because our parents lived through the Great Depression where every can was precious, or rather that in that time, in Cold War America, canned goods were the American thing to have on hand? In any case, there was always plenty of food and enough for leftovers. The meal would be capped off with pumpkin pie, banana cream pie and a pineapple upside-down cake.
Somewhere along the timeline, perhaps germinating in our youth, the meal gained in importance over the holiday sentiment. Boomers have changed the holiday from one of thanks to the one of over-indulgence that is celebrated today. Is it merely that boomer parents, like their parents and grandparents before them, want more and a better life for their children? Or have we gotten too comfortable in the lifestyle our parents’ generation worked so diligently to create for us?
Mister Boomer wishes you and yours a happy, thankful Thanksgiving. Now where is that can opener?