Does your family come together from near and far each year to celebrate Thanksgiving? Well, if not, I highly recommend it as a beautiful expression of the meaning of “Family Joy”. For not only does this annual event symbolise the importance of family unity, as with everyone seated around the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, no sooner than everyone is seated, it becomes obvious to one and all, that no matter what differences of opinion or misunderstandings that may have separated us over the past year, all is magically forgiven in the spirit of the holidays, and the Thanksgiving Day communion of kinship.
Every Thanksgiving Day at father’s behest we religiously came together at the Albany Country Club, founded in 1890, to which our family belonged, since my grandfather joined in 1919, when father was just 13 years old. So, father took up golf that year, and loved it. In 1931 at the age of 25, father won the very prestigious “Gavit Trophy”; and he became a member in his own name in 1946. From 1951 to 1955, he was a member of the Albany Country Club’s Board of Governors. At the time, the “ACC” was one of the area’s premier WASP, bastions of moral authority: The families attended upper-middle class Christian churches; the children were sent to the finer private schools in or outside the area; and most everyone’s ancestors conveniently arrived from Europe (of course, it was extra points if they came over on the Mayflower). Father attended the area’s favoured military day, college preparatory school, the Albany Academy, graduating in 1925, as a Rifle Marksman on the school’s Rifle Team, and with the rank of Adjutant, so, second in command to the Battalion Major. I followed in his footsteps, but decided I did not like the military regimentation, including “spiffy” collar stays, “Brasso” shined buckles, “spit shined shoes”, demerits, and the “pomp and circumstance” of our annual “Guidon” each March at the Tenth Infantry Armory on Washington Avenue: The five companies (A, B, C, D & E based on height) marched in close-order shouldering our drill-purpose Springfield rifles in front of the reviewing stand with each of the company commanders presenting their cadets to a saluting Captain “Cap” Townsend, Head of the Academy Cadet Battalion. As I was a bit clumsy in the First Form at the Academy, although I tried out for inclusion in the 1959 Guidon “32 Drill” for Company D, I didn’t make the final cut. The competition was very stiff to be named to the “32 Drill”, and my heart just wasn’t in it. But despite my lack of confidence, nevertheless, knowing full well that father wanted me to carry on our family military legacy in the Academy Battalion, I did it to please father. I think he knew there was a slim chance, if any, that I would be selected, so, I suppose, he believed in the power of prayer.
So, once everyone had found his or her assigned seat about the very large, oval, white linen cloth table in our lavishly appointed private dining room at “The Club”, father would ceremoniously stand, holding onto the back of his chair, and warmly welcome all 25 or so of our extended family of brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers as well as all the children. With tears of immense joy and happiness streaming down his face, father would say how happy and proud he was for the entire family to be together, once again, on Thanksgiving Day. But I must add this caveat: Three Albany Country Club employees were very special angels, and each in their own way, looking out for us. The Club General Manager was Duane Skinner, a graduate of the Cornell University Statler School of Hotel Administration. He was both very wise and compassionate. Of course, we New York City types would have characterised Duane as a “softie without balls”, because in Manhattan, it’s “My way or the Highway, baby”: And equally as direct: “Get out of my life!” Then there was Gertie. Gertie was like everybody’s grandmother, taking no lip from anyone; and if you crossed her, you were in for a very stern lecture, her nose being about 12 inches from yours; and she was a skilled finger-pointer that added an emphatic exclamation to her intense, no-holds-barred monologue. Yet beneath her protective armour and “shoot first” ways was a heart of gold to the extent that all the children at the Club were as well her own. Finally, there was Mary, who specialised in knowing everyone’s favourite, high-calorie foods; and surprising us with an extra slice of homemade blueberry pie in the kitchen; or at the dinner table, the best ever, Idaho mashed potatoes with lots of Land O’Lakes creamery butter on top.
The Christians have an expression “A family that prays together, stays together”. Each year father would ask someone different to say grace before we dined. The prayers were always well rehearsed and from the heart. Thanksgiving meant “coming together with open hearts and malice for none”, with all previous transgressions forgiven; and naturally, there was the growing excitement among the children that the Christmas season was almost upon us, which meant the ritual journeys downtown with mother to North Pearl Street to visit Whitney’s and Myers department stores to see the newest Lionel and American Flier, electric train sets; and the Christmas selection of dolls for the girls. But Father’s spontaneous tears of joy always meant more to us than the most elegant of words he might otherwise have spoken. As the Thanksgiving prayer concluded, everyone joined in unison with a very deliberate and loud “Amen”.
Of course, everyone ate way too much, as they would sheepishly ask others to kindly pass a second helping of mashed potatoes, stuffing with giblet gravy, turkey white or dark meat, and cranberry sauce with Parker House rolls and extra butter; after which they would cheerfully announce that as soon as the holidays were finished, they would immediately embark upon the latest fad diet to quickly return to their pre-Turkey day weight. For us kids, if we had some good old Upstate New York, early snow flurries, and even just an inch or two of light, fluffy snow, we would race to the clothes closet, don our winter coats, boots, scarves, mittens, knitted winter caps, furry, adjustable ear muffs; and run outside for the first official snowball fight of the holiday season, gleefully frolicking about as irreverently as possible. Those were the days. If only time travel was already available, in a heartbeat I would purchase a ticket back to Turkey day in 1951.
The Wines of Thanksgiving
There was a time when the most popular adult beverages among most American families for Thanksgiving were cocktails and beer, followed by coffee with dessert. But thankfully, today, the most popular adult beverages for Thanksgiving are sparkling, rosé, red, and white wines of distinction. While the red and white wines that best pair with turkey vary from those best suited for ham, sparkling and rosé wines go nicely with both main courses. So, what wines are best for Turkey day? Let’s take-a-look: The answer depends on the maturity of the palates of most of the family members and any guests. If a guest or family member is new to consuming premium wines, they will be happier with more fruit forward wines, while those with more mature wine palates will prefer drier, more complex wines that have some bottle age, where appropriate. So, best to be prepared with a selection of wines that will be sure to please everybody. You may have more open bottles, but the amount of wine consumed will be more-or-less the same as if you offered no choices for your selection of dinner wines. The nice thing about having several open bottles of wine is that if you put them out after dinner, by the time evening comes, there will be only empty bottles, and very satisfied wine aficionados.
As very often some consumers prefer red or white wine only, regardless of how incompatible their chosen wine may be with one or more of your dinner courses, it’s a good idea to offer a popular, name brand red, and name brand white wine that pretty much goes with most everything. Of course, you can go in lots of directions to satisfy these preferences, but you might try a moderately priced French Chablis for your entry level white wine fans; and a mid range, California Pinot Noir for your entry level red wine fans. As for Champagne or sparkling wine, it all depends on your budget. But stay with name brands, and you will never go wrong. I like the Bisol Prosecco’s, and there’s one for every pocketbook, like the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Non-Vintage Brut, Prosecco, Italy or the Bisol Crede Prosecco Superiore 2015, Prosecco, Italy. If you have a Champagne budget, you can’t go wrong with the House of Mumm, so I suggest you try the G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, Champagne, France. But for really good red and white wines to compliment your Thanksgiving day meal, why not consider these wines from Gerard Bertrand Wines, Sud de France, while visiting your favourite wine shop on the China Mainland: Réserve Spéciale Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2015; Réserve Spéciale Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2015; Cigalus Blanc, IGP Aude Hauterive, France 2014; Réserve Spéciale Merlot, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2015; Terroir Corbières, AOP Corbières, France 2014; Château L’Hospitalet La Réserve, AOP La Clape 2014; Réserve Spéciale Pinot Noir, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2015 ; Réserve Spéciale Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2014; and Cigalus Rouge, IGP Aude Hauterive, France 2014. So, whether this is your very first family Thanksgiving feast, or one of many, drink and eat well, and don’t forget to love all. I am Red Owl, forever vigilant, over and out.
Golf trophy won by Fred M. Tibbitts (father) at the Albany Country Club
The Gavit Trophy 1931
Mother and I in the backyard at Albany, New York, the summer of 1951
Me at Daytona Beach, Florida on our family winter vacation of 1953