Through the advent of social media, it has become prevalent to share with the world what we are thankful for. I’m totally cool with it. Some of it’s entertaining, some of it’s truly heart felt.
Thanksgiving has become a holiday that I’m unable to spend with my family in Washington. I’m also cool with this as well and I’ll explain.
Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of Thanksgivings away from home, four of the last seven to be exact, and that’ll happen when you live far away. I’ve been fortunate enough though to have had great friends around me that have taken me in, and in essence, have made me a part of their families.
For that, I want to thank all of them now for hospitality and share those memories.
My first Thanksgiving away from home in 2006 was tough, not a heartbreaker, just a new feeling for me. One of my teammates in Crookston, Trevor Haugh, invited me to his family’s farm in Wells, MN. This was great because I had never been on a real farm before.
Goats in a barn with a mountain of hay around them, a salty horse in a pen and fields as far as the eye could see were just a part of the charm. I even got to jump in the back of a pickup truck to move hay!
The real pleasure however was staying with the Haughs and becoming a part of the family. The Michelob Golden Draft and Guitar Hero were flowing that weekend. The rodeo stories from his dad were priceless as well.
If not for my aunt coming in at the 11th hour in 2007 to surprise my parents in Southern California, I would have been back on the farm to spend it with them. Still a very fond memory in South Central Minnesota. I still text “Papa Ho” every year on his birthday in fact.
When I was living in Boston in 2008 I had no clue what the hell I was going to do as I had only been out there a few months and basically only knew my coworkers at Harvard. At the last minute, a coworker of mine Matt Lavoie, invited me to go to Parsippany, NJ with him where his family meets up at his grandmother’s retirement home This set up an eventful weekend.
The kindness was overwhelming. Since everyone stays in hotel out there, his parents got me a room at the hotel and took me to dinner for the family’s pre-Thanksgiving tradition of Chinese food at the restaurant in town.
Prior to dinner that first night, Matt’s uncle, “One-Eared” Dave (not just a cleve nickname) offered me a mix of vodka (I think) and juice and while it was good, I wasn’t “wowed” by it as he anticipated. Like the true Northeastern that he is, he called me on it. Matt’s dad jokingly said in defense “these are cosmopolitan, high-society Boston boys Dave,” to which Dave promptly responds “Cosmo huh?” Thus, I was dubbed Cosmo by Dave for the rest of the weekend.
We ate dinner at grandma’s home and she invited her 100-year old friend, Grace, who told us all about the sherry that she brought to dinner (Note: Matt’s aunt brought it). God bless Grace for eating with us, reaching that ripe old age and her ability for being able to walk down on her own power with little assistance.
Later Thanksgiving night, Matt’s cousin and I accompanied him to Morristown, NJ to his girlfriend’s family’s house. Kristin Kenney, who was a volleyball coach at Harvard, and her sister Shawn were hellbent on seeing the first Twilight movie at 10:15pm and we were there to help foil that plan by playing drinking games with her family and charming the hell out them.
We reached 10:10pm before the girls finally noticed the time. Needless to say, we were forced to sit through the movie. I snuck into the theatre so I won that battle and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery of Washington and Oregon in the movie.
For barely knowing anyone out East and being taken in like that, Thanksgiving with the Lavoies and Kenneys will always be a fond memory of mine. It built a friendship I still have today with Matt.
This year I was In limbo as well because of a busy schedule at work, I had forgotten to make plans. I had looked into volunteer opportunities in DeKalb to occupy my time during the day but was unable to find anything online that was available.
I received a late invitation by the athletic department secretary Janaan Mickey to her house in nearby Rochelle, IL. I decided to make the trip up there and am very happy that I did.
As I sat on the couch and watched football with her family and her mother Phyliss, a retired secretary in the NIU athletic department, she introduced me to her son and said “I’m the cougar and he’s my date tonight.”
As the wine flowed at dinner, the conversations with family became lively and we all had a great time over the course of the night, sharing stories, laughing and watching football. For everything, I thank the Mickeys for their hospitality and taking me in and will likely be back next year.
Words can only express so much how thankful I am for these families in my life and for taking in someone so far from home on what is basically just a force day off in the life of college athletics.
I conclude with this anecdote. In my first Thanksgiving in DeKalb last year, I decided that I was going to cook on my own and experiment with turkey enchiladas. I cooked the turkey in frying pan, sauced up a cooking dish, rolled those bad boys up, threw some cheese on the enchiladas and let them sit in the oven ’til they were done.
When they were done, I got my potholders and began to take the dish out of the oven. I lifted my hand to soon and burned the bejesus out of the base of my thumb on the 375 degree oven grate, a scar I still carry today.
On my drive home today I thought about this event and realized that whether you are home or far away from it, Thanksgiving is meant to be shared with others because that’s what really matters. Family, friends, loved ones or strangers, it really doesn’t matter anymore for me and it shouldn’t for anyone else either. Even if you’re unable to eat dinner, just hangout or go Black Friday shopping (if that’s your thing) with someone to share Thanksgiving.
One of my favorite quotes of all time resides at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey picks up Clarence’s copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and reads the message the inside cover of the book:
Remember, no man is a failure with friends.
P.S. Thanks for the wings!