The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

The year was 1998. The location South Berwick, Maine. Our little family was going to do something a bit different that year. Instead of making Thanksgiving Dinner, we were going to support the local chapter of VFW and eat with them.

Thanksgiving morning, we all piled into our minivan and drove to the VFW. We had never been there before and Mom and Dad were a little worried about it being 100% kid friendly. Dad parked the van and we all waited while he went in to check.

The entrance to the building was on the second floor, similar to this picture I just found. Except the stairs ran from the left up to the right. But still, you get the general idea.

The door was visible from where we were in parked and I distinctly remember Dad trotting up the stairs to the door. He opened the door and when he did, clouds of smoke came billowing out, thick enough that he was temporarily obscured.

Dad shut the door, came back down the stairs and got back in the van. He didn’t even have to say anything, we knew we couldn’t eat there. The smell of smoke makes Mom violently ill and no one wanted to spend Thanksgiving that way.

Our problem then is that we had no real backup plan. We didn’t hadn’t purchased any food to make Thanksgiving dinner and it was late enough in the afternoon that wasn’t feasible for us to prepare a traditional feast before the day was over.

“Well, I guess we can go to Walmart” Dad suggested. “You can all pick out whatever you want.”

The three of us cheered. Mom cried. Dad started the car and we were off.

I was young enough and soft-hearted enough then that instead of picking out something that I wanted, I let John pick out two things and I “picked” one of them. (It is worth pointing out that this is still when I was under the impression that John knew a lot more than I did. He used this to his advantage but this impression was shattered when, a year later, I tried tomatoes on a burger for the first time. He always ordered his burger without tomato so I did too. But once they messed up and one of our burgers had tomato on it. I self-sacrificed and took the one with tomato. It was delicious and I have never fully trusted John since). Anyway, between the two of us, we had a tub of licorice and a tub of ice cream. The stuff dreams are made of.

Mom somehow managed to find a frozen Turkey Breast and bought some stove top stuffing and instant mashed potatoes. Dad, realizing that we couldn’t all wait that long to eat, bought some frozen pizzas.

We got home and had a feast of frozen pizza, ice cream, licorice, apple pie (Cami’s pick) and an assortment of other non-traditional food items. It was wonderful.

Mom did make all the “traditional” food but we were too full by the time it was ready to eat any of it. She may have cried again, convinced that Thanksgiving was ruined and we would be scarred forever by this train-wreck of a celebration.

Fast forward a few years. Mom and Dad are in Guam for Thanksgiving (or Singapore? Or Hawaii? Or Australia? It’s hard to keep straight where they were when since they’ve gone so many places without us). John, Cami, and I are at my aunt’s house.

Independently of each other, they retold this story to the people they were with and we regaled our relatives with our tale. The details in both versions matched up pretty well, until we got to the end.

When Mom and Dad finished, Mom shook her head and said “that was the worst Thanksgiving ever.”

Halfway around the world, the three of us sighed contentedly and said, “that was the best Thanksgiving ever.”

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