The many faces of Thanksgiving

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What comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving Day? The Thanksgiving celebrations of our youth will yield one answer. And if you’re talking about Thanksgiving today, the answer will be completely different. And what about your favorite Thanksgiving memory? The truth is that our view of Thanksgiving has most likely changed over time as we have been exposed to a variety of celebrations.

My family would gather at my parent’s home every Sunday for the family lunch meal. Ma — God knows there’s no way I’d be calling her “Mom,” that was for the American kids — would put out polenta, oven roasted potatoes, roasted chicken or a pot roast, pasta, ciopette (a Northern Italian bread with horns), a vegetable or two like green beans, and insalata. That certainly was different from our Thanksgiving meal!

Thanksgiving Day always began at daybreak or before. Ma went crazy the entire week of Thanksgiving until “the” day, from creating the meal in her head to determining who had the best sale price on the items to be prepared.

Whether it was The Home Store on the south end of the “Ave.” or the A&P on 113th Place across from Saxon Paints, my mom would be on the hunt for the deals. Sometimes, my father would have to be enlisted to drive us to the High-Low on 111th and South Park across from the Pullman Bank. Including my dad in the shopping was never a good thing because his goal was to pull the least money out of his pocket without regard for the quality of the items purchased. It’s safe to say he was a bit touchy when it came to spending money.

I recall the time we had gone shopping and my dad had carefully placed a glass gallon jug of milk on the back floor of the car and yelled a warning at us kids so we wouldn’t spill it. We pulled into traffic and headed down 111th to Front Street when my dad almost blew a stop sign and had to slam on his brakes and veer right to avoid hitting a car. The glass gallon went flying against the center hump and the cardboard top flew off — milk everywhere! My father turned around and was ready to yell but — he had only himself to blame.

However, when it came to Thanksgiving Day shopping, my dad was just an incidental part of it. Whatever Ma wanted that’s what was going to be bought. From the turkey to the accessories, my mom put it all together. The only problem I had with the whole holiday ordeal was that “waiting time” after the usual cereal breakfast. Waiting, that is, for all of my seven brothers and sisters and their children and girlfriends or boyfriends would show up.

My sister Jean had eight kids, sister Tootsie had three, my sister Rosie had two and my brother Willy had two and then there was my brother Augie and me. As you can see, there was a full house for holidays from when my brother and I were little kids to when all our siblings had their little kids. All of these people meant a lot of food had to be prepared and that translated to a lot of time spent by my mom working away in the kitchen. The problem was my brother and I starved while we were waiting to sit down and feed our faces.

I recall the time when I was about 10 that I was super starved waiting for the meal to begin. I was so hungry that when we finally sat down to eat — I didn’t stop eating till I was absolutely full. As it turned out, as one might expect, I was literally full and blew the lid off the pot so to speak. I casually left the table, sat down on the couch for about two minutes and had to run to the bathroom to — as they say — pray to the porcelain god! Ever since that experience, Thanksgiving Day has become a day for me to eat a hearty breakfast followed by a moderate Thanksgiving Day meal later in the day.

Of course, there have been many meaningful Thanksgiving celebration over the years. Like the first time my future wife joined my family for the meal. Or the meal I shared with my parents and brother Chester when they drove down to Fort Bragg to visit me, their only son to serve in the military during wartime.

I’m confident that everyone could look back through the albums of their lives and find a number of Thanksgiving Days that had more meaning than others. And though we have celebrated many Thanksgiving Days, they are all celebrations of thanksgiving. Just like life, some of those times are more celebratory and memorable than others but they are all times of giving thanks.

Nine years and counting …

It initially passed me by, but I finally remembered that this past October marked the ninth year I have been writing this column. That would be 108 colums total. Along with that milestone — or due to it — I’ve been a presenter a number of times for the Italian American IA-Literati Conference at Casa Italia’s Roselli Library moderated by Dominic Candeloro assisted by Dr. Anna Weiss and Pullman’s own Jeanette Risatti Viehman.

I’ve been fortunate to have met and interviewed many people from all walks of life sharing the love of Roseland common in their hearts. I have been to many Veneti nel Mondo and Piemontese meetings and dinners; family reunions and events; Spaghetti-O’s dinner meetings and St. Anthony’s Dinner Dance reunions; and Festas Italiana all with the goal of finding and storing up material for future columns.

I’ve found that my writings are deeply appreciated for striking the spark that gives light to memories long forgotten. Memories of the good old days and the friends and friendships that have been formed that have held fast throughout my reader’s lives. For many, it is the twilight time of their lives and the recalling of fond times spent with good friends means a great deal to them.

These nine years have been a real privilege for me to expand my horizons; increase the length and breadth of my world; interact with and take part in the lives of many; and beyond all expectations, improved my skill as a writer, the depth of my heart, and the sentiment of my love for Roseland, Kensington, and Pullman knows no bounds and is forever. Thank you!

Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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