Thanksgiving Memories | Remembering Thanksgiving Stories


It doesn’t get much better than families gathering together around a big table, laughing over old stories, enjoying good times and savoring nostalgic memories on Thanksgiving Day — that most aromatic of American holidays.  Here is a collection of Thanksgiving memories and short Thanksgiving stories.  They are Thanksgiving stories that remind us that remembering Thanksgiving is about remembering the kindnesses of strangers, unforgettable acts of generosity, hilarious tales of cooking misadventures, the sometimes lonely experience of finding yourself on Thanksgiving Day far away from family and the twinge of sadness for that special person who no longer sits with us at the Thanksgiving table.

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A surprise Thanksgiving feast in the French countryside.  "Just out of college and eager to travel the world, my friend Malcolm Carling-Smith and I decided to move to France In the fall of 1976 and immerse ourselves in the French culture.  The two of us took French language courses in a school in Tours, France - a language institute that catered mostly to young adults from countries throughout the world.  Like us, most of the other students rented rooms in the homes of local host families who spoke little or no English.  It was an unforgettable experience staying with these families.  We got to know some of them very well.  We learned about their traditions and they learned about ours. 

In late November, however, we couldn't help but be reminded of home as we walked the streets and markets of France and saw no pumpkins, no harvest decor, no turkeys.  One evening, we were invited over for dinner by one of the host families.  When we arrived and they opened the door to their home, we were taken completely by surprise to see a full Thanksgiving celebration feast awaiting us.  The parents and children were dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians.  They served us roasted turkey, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.  It was a slice of home away from home, and one of the most unique and memorable Thanksgivings I've ever had."

Bob Cole
Camarillo, California

The warm hospitality of a complete stranger.
  “The year was 1976. My company in Ohio had just transferred me to their office located in New Mexico. I was to start the Monday after Thanksgiving. I had never been west of the Mississippi, I was single and I knew no one in New Mexico.  Prior to my leaving, a future co-worker engaged me in a conversation and asked that I call him when I arrived in Albuquerque.  I pulled into Albuquerque about 9:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and called him at home. I apologized for the intrusion on the holiday. He directed me to the motel where I was to stay until my belongings came."

"I fully expected him to wish me well until the office the next Monday. However, he invited me to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner. I took him up on his offer and enjoyed a nice dinner with his wife, daughter and twin baby boys. My most memorable moment of that day was him holding one of his twin boys and comforting him as he was a bit fussy.  I cannot remember what food was served, topics of conversation, decorations or how everyone was dressed. What follows me through the years is the warm hospitality given a complete stranger, alone in a new place. It demonstrated to me the generosity of the Albuquerque citizenry to welcome someone to the community.”  (1)

— Gary Bolte
Albuquerque, New Mexico

My first grade teacher, pumpkin pie and the smell of powdered chocolate.  “For me, Thanksgiving recollections somehow get intertwined with those of my early school days.  There was our first grade teacher at Bellevue's Euclid School in 1926 who brought in a pumpkin pie one day that the class shared mid-morning with our half-pint bottle of milk.  She had read to us about the first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims shared a harvest meal with friendly Indians, and pumpkin pie was part of it because the newcomers had been taught how to grown pumpkins, squash, beans and corn.  Then there was the special play on the top floor auditorium at Halsey School in 1927, again featuring that famous repast. What I recall most about it was the smell of the powdered chocolate that we rubbed on faces and arms to create the Indians. To this day, I'm reminded of that occasion whenever a lid is pried from a can of powdered chocolate.” (2)

Larry Hart
Schenectady, New York

A little boy helping Grandma stuff the turkey.
  “Grandmother Annabel is in the process of stuffing the turkey, adding the traditional seasoned bread stuffing, well-celeried, to the big bird.  David, with all the intensity of a 5-year-old, is watching, and asking, ‘What are you doing, Grandma?’ ‘I'm stuffing the bird,’ [she informed him].  Later, David approaches the refrigerator where Big Bird is stored temporarily.  He has a piece of bread in his hand.  As he approaches the turkey, he holds out his hand and says, ‘Here, turkey. Eat!’” (1) 

— Helen Aarli
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The miracle of a new heart and a new daughter.  “Kimberly Lane can give thanks today for her new baby, from the bottom of her new heart. Days after giving birth to Emily at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Lane underwent an odds-defying emergency heart transplant.  Doctors prepped nine times as nine hearts became available. None were compatible.  The day after surgeons implanted an artificial heart to keep Lane alive, a matching heart arrived.  …‘Finding a matching heart after nine rejections was like winning the lottery,’ [Dr. John A. Elefteriades, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale and one of Lane's physicians, said.  Lane, who has had a life-long heart problem] entered Yale-New Haven Hospital on Oct. 2 with difficulty breathing. Doctors induced Emily's birth 10 days later.  Emily was about six weeks early and weighed 5 pounds.  The delivery and a glimpse of her daughter are all Lane can remember until waking up with a new heart.  Lane's heart held until Emily was born and then lapsed into irreparable failure.  Twenty-four hours after the artificial ventricle was installed, Elefteriades and colleagues re-opened Lane's chest and implanted the new heart.  ‘She was very sick for three or four days. She was so ill we weren't sure she'd make it,’ he said.  She did.  ‘It's really heartwarming,’ Elefteriades said.” (3)

— Kimberly Lane
New Haven, Connecticut

Sitting at the captain’s table for Thanksgiving dinner while on board a seasick ship en route to Japan after WWII. “Theresa MacMillan recalls with some amusement and much joy the three Thanksgivings she spent en route to or in occupied Japan after World War II.  ‘I just made up my mind to go abroad and help,’ Miss MacMillan said of her former stint with the U.S. Army's Special Services unit from 1947 to 1950. . .Shortly after setting out for Japan along with 250 troops and 350 wives and children, Mrs. MacMillan's ship ran into bad weather.  ‘I was one of the few who didn't get (sea)sick,’ recalled Miss MacMillan, 75.  ‘I'm glad, because we had to care for the others. That northern weather was very rough.'  

'On Thanksgiving Day, the captain and I and one nurse were the only ones at the captain's table. Everybody else was sick. That lasted for about three days.’  When her first Thanksgiving in Japan arrived, Miss MacMillan noticed many improvements as she traveled around the occupied country.  ‘The thing that impressed me was that every Thanksgiving there was a service at every (U.S. military) post, no matter how small,’ she said.  ‘Thanksgiving was sometimes celebrated at a hospital because sometimes it would be the only thing standing. As conditions got better, we got our own chapels. Every effort was made to share our services with the Japanese.’  She said American soldiers never went without turkeys, which were shipped to the country for the big day. ‘There was always a lot . . . it made you glad to be an American.’” (4)

— Theresa MacMillan
Richmond, Virginia

The tale of turkey with a tail.  “It was a perfect Thanksgiving Day ... friends and family gathered 'round ... golden brown turkey ... guests were seated at a beautiful table. But out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving in the kitchen. I did several double takes before I realized what I was seeing.  There was a small furry tail sticking out of the back end of the turkey! We went into the kitchen and, sure enough, here was the brand-new tabby kitten we had adopted earlier in the week, Inside the turkey eating to his hearts' content! He had evidently been there awhile, because when we tried to pull him out, his little belly was SO big and full, we could barely budge him! We were all laughing hysterically and always remember the Thanksgiving that "Dexter" was in the Bird!  Dexter grew up to be a beautiful 30-pound, double-pawed tabby. We're convinced that, as a kitten, his first Thanksgiving contributed to his extra-good appetite, which he carried with him throughout his life. Dexter was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1987. We smile every Thanksgiving as we look in the kitchen at the turkey on the counter." (5)

— Linda Feldmann
Mashpee, Massachusetts

Sitting around the campfire on a cattle drive enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with my dad and a crew of hungry cowboys.  “The Thanksgivings of my growing up years were seldom of a sit-down formal dinner, but rather were dependent on the fall cattle drive.  My Dad, Troy H. King, was a lifelong cattleman. His summer pasture land was north of Dolores, Colo., and the winter range near the family home, west of Farmington. For nearly 50 years, he trailed the cattle on the 100-mile drive. The fall cattle drive was a cold hard one for the cowboys, with little sleep and restless cattle.  If the drive could be reached by car, my aunt, and later my step-mother, would prepare a big meal and we would take it to the reservation and eat with the men on Thanksgiving. The memory of my dad and the cowboys sitting on the ground around the campfire, eating their Thanksgiving dinner from a granite plate, remains with me.  In the next several days, some of the cattle would be brought onto the home place and the spring calves would be weaned from their mothers and branded. There was a lot of bawling, but it was a good sound to us, for the cattle and the men were safely home. (1)

— Troyetta Batley
Farmington, New Mexico

Having Thanksgiving dinner with world famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. 
“Shortly after World War II, Walter W. Ott of Osyka, Miss., found himself commanding a group of U.S. servicemen in England who were maintaining airplanes for the 1948 Berlin Airlift. When famed aviator Charles Lindbergh arrived on Thanksgiving Day to boost morale, Ott planned to share a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with him. But when pressing business delayed Ott for three hours, he directed Lindbergh to the mess hall, certain that he had missed an opportunity to dine with his childhood hero.  Ott finally arrived at the mess hall, "expecting to get a Spam sandwich. But there, waiting for me, was Col. Lindbergh, who had explained to the cook my delay and arranged for me to have an American Thanksgiving dinner after all. This was a very happy moment for me to be able to have dinner and visit with my childhood idol, Charles A. Lindbergh," Ott wrote. "This was my best Thanksgiving."  (6)  

— Walter W. Ott
Osyka, Mississippi

Meeting a handsome trucker.  “The year was 1938 and I was attending Harwood Girls School here in Albuquerque. This was to be my first Thanksgiving away from my homestead home at Red Hill, [New Mexico].  My classmate invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family. Her father was a trucker on a highway construction project between Cuba and Bloomfield.  Little did I know that the handsome truck driver that was invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us would become my future husband.  We've been married 56 years now and Thanksgiving holds a special meaning for us.” A special short Thanksgiving story.  (1)
— Juanita Coulter
Albuquerque, New Mexico

(2) Compiled by Carrie Seidman, “Turkey Day Stuffed With Smiles, Tears,” Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 27, 1997, p. A1
(1) Larry Hart, “Thanksgiving memories: school days, special people,” The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, New York, November 22, 1999, p. B-O2
(3) Abram Katz, “Mother gives thanks, from bottom of new heart,” New Haven Register, New Haven, Connecticut, November 23, 2000, p. a1
(4) Bonnie Newman-Stanley, “Holiday Rekindles Memories of Food, Friends, Family And Faith,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, November 28, 1985, p. 17
(5) Gwenn Friss, “A kitten in the turkey, a turkey in the hot tub and other Thanksgiving disasters,” Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Massachusetts, November 26, 2003
(6) Danny Heitman, “Giving Thanks - Stories of memorable Thanksgivings,” The Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, November 21, 1999, p. 1H