Back in the Day: Memories of Thanksgiving

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by Tony Wade
Published in the Fairfield Daily Republic November 21, 2014

On Thanksgiving Day 1964, service members stationed at Travis Air Force Base may have missed the emotional component of the holiday by being away from family, but they were more than taken care of gastronomically.

The Food Service there cooked a massive feast that included nearly 5,000 pounds of turkey, 1,000 pounds of ham, 3,000 pounds of potatoes, 12,000 rolls and 2,000 pies.

On Thanksgiving Day 1974, if locals decided to eat out instead of cooking, there were numerous options. Holiday Inn (now Courtyard by Marriott) had a Turkey Day Buffet for only $3.95. The Howard Johnson’s spread included the traditional fare, but also offered breaded flounder and butterfly shrimp. Other choices were the Apache Dining Room in the Fairfield Bowl, Smorga Bob’s and The Office, located on Acacia Street (across from Food Maxx), that added Louisiana prawns to the menu.

The day after Thanksgiving shopping phenomenon now called Black Friday hadn’t evolved (or some may say devolved) into what it is today, but downtown Fairfield businesses were open late – until 9 p.m.

Doorbusters included a $1 off any pantsuit coupon from Pauline’s Sportswear and cotton suede jackets regularly $35.88 marked down to $19.88 at Marty’s Clothiers. For those with groovier tastes, Aquarius Gift Shop had black lights and strobe lights with handy layaway plans if the under $20 price tags were too hefty.

Locals looked back on Thanksgivings past:

Mary Lou Bowen: We never served stuffing at our house, momma always made what she called rice dressing. It had instant rice, Jimmy Dean sausage, giblets and onions. Unfortunately, I never got the recipe from her, but I do my best to replicate it. One year, momma was reheating the rice, and forgot it and burned the rice dressing. I guess it’s probably time to forgive her, but I’ve never forgotten the one Thanksgiving without my favorite dish.

Donna Ingram: Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Kidder Avenue had an enclosed back porch and all the kids would be set up there at card tables to eat. Everything Grandma cooked was made from scratch. Stuffing made with day-old cornbread and biscuits loaded up with onion, celery and sage; gravy made with chicken gizzards and hearts; mashed potatoes came from the shed where they were stored after harvest; and green beans Grandma had canned. Oh, and chocolate and lemon pies and banana pudding.

Most Novembers were pretty mild in Fairfield, so the kids would play outside until dark. After the ball games, which most of the women watched along with the men, the grownups would gather in the kitchen to play poker, dominoes or cards. The kids would sprawl on the carpet in front of the TV to watch holiday specials. Slowly, my relatives would take their leave until there would just be my grandparents and me. My grandmother would say, “Ah, blessed silence!”

Cynthia Simpson: Our only family tradition was that Mom always forgot that the rolls were still in the oven until we could see smoke coming out. She did this almost every year, and on the years when she didn’t forget, we felt as though something was missing.

Teresa Ficarra: Thanksgiving in the Ficarra household was always about the guys watching football while my mom cooked the dinner, which included the best turkey, stuffing and her fabulous pumpkin pie. Since both my parents and sister have passed away, my brothers always ask me to make “Mom’s pumpkin pie” and her famous stuffing, too. I am grateful that she taught me her secrets in both the pumpkin pie and stuffing recipes, and I have tried to pass those down to my daughters and nieces.

Carl Lamera: Being Filipino, whenever there is a large feast to be had, lechon (suckling pig roasted over charcoal) is the protein of choice. It was inevitable for us to have lechon as a substitute for turkey one year. The upside was that the ovens were freed up for cooking all the side dishes. The downside was being outside in the cold November rain spinning a pig with a pole up its rear for six to eight hours. Child labor laws were not invented back then. Not sure why the ritual was not repeated, but we were back on a turkey diet the next year.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.com.