Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving in the Army

I was in the Army in November of 1971. My duty station was just outside New York City, which was about a million miles from home, or so it seemed.

Back then, the military hadn’t gone all volunteer so they still paid slave wages to privates, and I couldn’t afford a plane ticket home. 

For the first time in my life, I couldn’t spend Thanksgiving with my family. 

I’d dreaded the phone call home to my mom. Holidays were a BIG deal to her, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I heard her voice crack when I told her I couldn’t come home. She put up a good front, but she could not hide the sadness in her voice.

She’d spend weeks cooking pecan pies, banana-nut bread and enough sweets to send blood-sugar levels of the entire community through the stratosphere.

Even now when I close my eyes, I can smell the aroma her kitchen during holidays. It was Heaven’s kitchen.

I’m usually the one lifting the spirits of those around me, but I can tell you the week of Thanksgiving in 1971, my spirits were sagging.

We had a married guy in our unit, and he invited several of us to his house for the holiday.

Most of the other guys in my unit who lived across the country couldn’t go home either because they were as broke as the Ten Commandments too, so we accepted the invitation.

He came from German roots so his wife’s idea of a Thanksgiving feast was a lot different from that of my family.

A large part of my culinary choices up to that point was choosing between butter beans and cornbread, or pinto beans and biscuits, but I was willing to try German food.

His wife welcomed us into their home and fetched us some German beer to get things rolling.

They scheduled the meal for mid-afternoon, so the guys sat in the living room and watched football.

She’d prepared rouladen, which is a kind of beef rollup, a chicken dish, some wiener schnitzel, sauerkraut and several other dishes I couldn’t name.

I’d never want to hurt anyone’s feeling, so I tried a little of everything. The rouladen was really good, and I loved the pastries, but some of the stuff I didn’t eat and left it hidden under my napkin when we finished.

I was grateful to my friend for inviting me so that I didn’t have to spend a homesick Thanksgiving alone.

Since our parents died, Thanksgiving has changed for Jilda and me. In years past, we helped serve the needy. 

There was something about serving those less fortunate that took our minds off how much we missed our parents.

This year we decided to stay home and cook dinner. Jilda’s a great cook and it will be fun sharing that special day with loved ones.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the many blessings in my life.

I’m grateful for our family and friends who are actually people we chose to be in our extended family.

I’m grateful that even though Jilda has to take monthly treatments to maintain her health, we still manage to play music, travel and do the things we love.

I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but what I wouldn’t give to have a piece of my mama’s pecan pie.

Photo of the day - Autumn Clouds


  1. A touching post. I'm glad that the family invited you guys who couldn't go home for Thanksgiving into their home. And as you and Jilda help those who are less fortunate. May God richly bless you both. As the two of you are at your home this year for Thanksgiving, I pray continued blessings on you. May Jilda's treatments provide a long and happy life for her, and may the joy of being together with the one you love be multiplied over and over again.
    (I wish you could have a piece of your Mama's pecan pie, too. I know that you miss her.)
    Sending warmest hugs to you and Jilda.

  2. Beautiful...what a great story about family, friends, and love! I feel much the same way about my own meals were very special in our Italian family.

  3. Anonymous11:33 PM

    You'll be with your family, because my definition of family is "A group of people who love you"!!

  4. This was beautiful Rick, such awesome memories :)

  5. A lovely warm hearted post.
    My husband was in the military for 20 years and we usually had Thanksgiving away from our family.
    We used to invite a few single guys on base to our home for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving over seas are some of my happiest holidays!! : )

  6. Awwwwww - now this is what I think Thanksgiving is all about! Your army pal inviting you guys round for German beer and sauerkraut! Jilda's lovely cooking! Your mum's pecan pie! Helping out those less fortunate! Wishing you and Jilda a wonderful Thanksgiving! Take care

  7. Great post Rick. I know how you feel about the pie. I can taste Grandma's stollen and apple pie.

  8. I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving. I'm grateful to cook and share a dinner with Willy Dunne Wooters.


  9. It's a great story Rick. I love just about any food that is edible. I love to try ethnic food and Greek is my all time favorite.

    Pecan pie is also one of my favorite and I made one not very long ago. Very sweet and yummy. If you were closer, I'd make one for you.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. Loved this post. I remember my parents talking about how devastating it was for them when my Dad was in Korea for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I honestly think that one of the things that has kept them together for over 50 years is remembering those really hard times in their younger days and how much they meant to each other. Happy Thanksgiving!


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