Thanksgiving Letter 2: Heat Loss

November 5th, 2013

Thanksgiving Letter 2: Heat Loss - Thanksgiving

My family has so many crazy holiday stories that viewing AFP’s Thanksgiving Letter has become an annual tradition. We can certainly relate, as we have our own fabled version:

One year, my wife and I hosted Thanksgiving for our extended family of 25+ people. My 92-year-old father – a man who, at that time, still took daily two-mile walks, managed four buildings he owned, and treated his seven middle aged offspring like children – decided HE would continue to have the upper hand in the day’s event. He wanted to make sure every detail was executed to perfection, with minimal disruption from youngsters and other family members who hoped this would be a fun gathering. A few weeks before the holiday, Dad handed me this instruction letter: It was written on he back of a (used) business sized envelope that he hand-lined with a ruler, presumably to save the cost of a piece of looseleaf paper.  For those who can’t read his handwriting, it reads:

For Thanksgiving Dinner November 2004. These are just a few thoughts. Perhaps you already have yours. Aim is to present a hot meal at dining time: Serve all guests younger than 5 years prior to service to adults. Count the youngsters as they come in the front door. Immediately gather their dinner plates (1 for 1). Have three (adult) people fill the youngsters’ dinner plates. This should be a fast phase. Try to discourage talking. Have the parents assist the kids. Remember the heat must be guided this time period so that the parents will enjoy a hot Thanksgiving dinner. Larry is watching heat during THIS PHASE. The adults are now in process of having their plates filled by TWO FILLER UP adults. Dessert is served to children and adults at the same time and coffee and tea is served in readily accessible cups & saucers. Perhaps paper cups and Sprite for children. Sprite or nothing. Get the youngsters satisfied as quickly as possible to minimize heat loss for the moms and pops.”

(submitted by Larry)


59 Responses to “Thanksgiving Letter 2: Heat Loss”

  1. Niki says:

    I thought the reason we had basements was for the sole purpose of hosting the kids Thanksgiving down there?!?? Seriously, in our family everybody under the age of 40 was put at the ‘kids’ table downstairs-I’m pretty sure houses were bought specificly with family dinners in mind- one room for the edlers and another for everybody under the age of 40. For most of us, it was a sad day when the family wasn;t big enough to require two rooms- suddenly all of ‘kids’ were ‘grown ups’ and had to eat at the ‘grown up table’- family dinners were never the same after that! Then again, with less than 5 children and mostly adults at the ‘kids’ table, it was deffinetly different tradition for our family, and a complete shock to suddenly have to play adults at the adult table, which we filled with mostly 70s, 80s and 90 year olds.

    • Larry says:

      Hi Niki:

      As our family got larger, the massive ‘kids’ table was relocated to the family room as the adults sat next door in the dining room – Dad wanted to keep us all in close proximity so that he could maintain silence and supervise everyone’s “adequate ingestion of nutrients” on the hot plates in front of us all. In Dad’s mind out of sight meant out of control. But on holidays it WAS a ritual for the noisy kids to congregate in the basement before and after the sacred meal to play game and yap to their heart’s content, out of Dad’s earshot and corrective criticisms!

  2. Tahira says:

    He sounds awesome. My step-grandfather was an engineer and would plan things just this way. We had an annual family picnic at a relative’s house in a neighboring state, which was probably a three hour drive. He had plotted out the speed limits and distances and even accounted for stop signs and lights. If we didn’t make it within a 3 minute window of his projection, he would spend the entire day sorting out where it had gone wrong (heaven forbid there be a detour or construction en route) and figuring out the trip back. When his wife became terminally ill, he did a complete kitchen inventory prior to her death and made himself a map of the kitchen noting where each item was kept and what it was used for (he had very little prior kitchen experience and knew nothing about it). Very methodical, sweet old man. The greatest generation for sure. Lucky for us, he was so hard of hearing for the last couple of decades, that he couldn’t hear enough of us to complain about the talking. But he was very precise. They don’t make them like they used to…. thanks for sharing this, Larry.

  3. Carrie says:

    I really like the beginning where he considers that “perhaps” you might already have your own thoughts. And then carries on without mentioning that possibility again. Awesome. I will make it a point to use this tactic on my children very soon.

    It is wonderful how your family honored his idiosyncrasies and wishes, and it shows great love and admiration for your father. I don’t know that our family could live up to his rules, or to your example.

  4. JMM says:

    Okay, I know Larry’s already answering questions but I still kinda wanna throw my own interpretation in the ring.

    I think “no talking” means “no talking during this phase of getting the kids settled.” Otherwise, when people come in they start going off on conversational tangents and the kids start playing and you never get anything done.

    I also think that “Sprite or nothing” means that the kids can be offered Sprite with their dessert — or, on second thought, they probably don’t need a beverage at all with dessert. I think the idea is to avoid dragging out the whole ordeal by giving kids millions of choices.

    It could be I’m just in love the dad, though.

  5. Suzie says:

    “Sprite or nothing.” Classic! I wouldn’t want Sprite, but it would be difficult to choke down piping hot turkey without anything to drink.

  6. Skeemer118 says:

    This is the best! It reminds me of something my dad would do. :)

  7. kristin says:

    I love it! Reminds me so much of my grandmother. She sent me to the store for mushrooms once. She instructed me to only get them from the bruised produce bin. When I got to the store, they looked so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to purchase them, so I got fresher bulk mushrooms. She was LIVID. It was as if I threw hundreds of dollars out the window. She was great, though. We got lots of laughs out of her thriftiness! Thanks for sharing!

    • Erin Armstrong says:

      I think a lot of people forget that that generation lived through the Great Depression. They learned how to really scrimp and save, and “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!”

      • Larry says:

        Loved the story about your grandmother with the mushrooms! As simple as these requests may seem to us, they were monumental to our parents/grandparents belief that they could “get things on the cheap” …and that would nonetheless allow for very plentiful items on the serving table to make a very bountiful meal.

        As it happened, this particular Thanksgiving, my father’s “note” was just the beginning – not only did he spend the day trying to enforce all original dictates, but he threw us a curve by showing up with a HUGE pan of unpalatable collard greens and pork neck bones (something he considered a delicacy, but we would barely feed to the dog).

    • Katherine says:

      Oh goodness grandparent thriftiness….in my family you learned early that if ever brought something into my grandfathers house hide the receipt and remove price tags before entering. He would absolutely go through you shopping bag and have a go at everything and KNOW exactly where each item could have been bought for less.

      He did all the shopping for himself and my grandmother. He went to no less than 4 grocery stores to do the weekly shopping. Never had the heart to ask him about gas, wear and tear on car and time costs… ;-)

  8. Sean says:

    Kid: Can I have some milk?

    Grandpa: No.

    Kid: What about water?

    Grandpa: Sure, as long as you like lemon-lime flavored carbonated water.

  9. Larry says:

    Thank you all for the kind (and understanding!) replies…I wanted to answer the most common queries in your comments:

    Why the canned whipped cream? The day Dad handed me his “instruction” sheet, we discussed the dessert options for the Thanksgiving meal, including the traditional “a la mode” scoop of ice cream to cover the pies. This paper was the only thing I could write on…and since I realized there was NO WAY to simultaneously keep the meal HOT and the ice cream COLD, I made a note-to-self to use “canned whipped cream” as a convenient substitute.

    The reference to “Sprite or Nothing” is baffling to me, too. As kids, we were NEVER allowed soda or any sugared drink. My best guess is that Dad found a coupon for Sprite, showing monumental savings at the supermarket. Nonetheless, “Sprite or Nothing” has become a family slogan.

    The hand-lined envelope was one of Dad’s ways of communicating…after all, what would one expect if we weren’t allowed to talk during meals?! As well, it was his way of practicing extreme thriftiness…my father was a man so financially resourceful that he LITERALLY paid off the mortgage on our house in ONE YEAR.

    Dad was never in the military, though he certainly adopted a commanding mindset….and he was known to run his family as an army. And yet, he always had a broad smile, a loving heart, and an ability to laugh at his own eccentricities. Which is why we remember his so fondly….

    • Rob says:

      Larry,
      I loved your Dad’s task oriented mode of thinking. He even states his objective: “Aim is to present a hot meal at dining time.” Everything else in the note is in some way part of achieving that objective. Even the “Sprite or Nothing”.

      In my own family we struggle to get the food to the table regardless of temperature. Usually food service efficiency is interrupted by seating arguments or or an airing of a personal dispute about who still owes whom bail money (Seriously- it happened about 4 Thanksgivings ago). Hence – I understand the no talking rule.

      Thanks for sharing and yes while not as disciplined as your Dad, I am the task-oriented person in my family holiday planning. I haven’t written a note like your Dad’s but it certainly gave me some good ideas for this holiday season!

      • Daria says:

        Rob, please, we must have the bail money story now! Don’t leave us hanging!

        Larry, your dad sounds very cool. I love the heat phase and the filler up adults!

        • Rob says:

          Unfortunately, there are several holiday bail money disputes as I recollect but I think that one was my nephew owing my father bail money for some crap he had done like driving sober the wrong way down a Boulevard at 3am. Most of us had avoided getting involved in the incident but they both took the opportunity to loudly argue and recount the whole event and the points in dispute. The rest of us finally filled our plates and tried to stay away from both of them for the rest of the day.

          I also recall another Thanksgiving when two relatives were discussing which inpatient psychiatric facility had the best cafeteria. It dawned on me the reason I don’t speak to most of my family that often is I don’t have any comparable stories of involuntary incarceration to share in common.

          • Melisa says:

            Rob: You are not alone; we have similarly second-hand bail stories too but my husband’s a cop so we tend to remember specific holiday years like this: ‘Was that the year you had to get Mike from County? Or when I had to grab Steve from ER after they found him hypothermic in the ditch?’

      • Molly says:

        Think bail money is bad? 80 years ago an infamous knife fight broke out over a cousin’s legitimacy during thanksgiving dinner and my great great grandmother threw a crystal bowl full of cranberry sauce to break it up. At that exact moment, my great aunt’s boyfriend knocked on the door to meet the family for the first time! I guess he wasn’t too shocked as they were married for 70 years!

        • Amber says:

          Best. Story. Ever.

        • Rob says:

          Great story Molly. I am glad there was a good ending. We have never had a weapon drawn, at least not during a holiday event. My sister has had some recovered alcoholic friends with no family come to our events over the years. None of them have ever returned for a second time. They usually decide spending the holidays alone isn’t such a bad thing after all!

          • Larry says:

            Molly and Rob:

            Your stories are HILARIOUS! Glad no real damage was done. At our Thanksgiving, Dad had no patience…if anyone disrupted the meal, or caused the main course to cool more than 2 degrees, he would likely get up and leave the premises.

            Another of Dad’s classics: On those occasions when we DID talk, Dad would often invoke the “six second rule.” This puzzled us, since it was something NEW, a directive he only came up with in his 90s. Turns out he got the idea from a book we gave him by Julia Child, in which she suggested no one should talk more than six seconds at the dinner table (I’m sure she meant it as a point of graciousness, meaning no one should hog the conversation.) But Dad decided this was another great way to get us to shut up: he was convinced that “conversation” somehow impeded the proper absorption of nutrients from his well-concocted and carefully-temperature-controlled meals.

            My siblings and I often had Sunday dinners at my father’s house in his later years. If anyone lapsed into a lively chat at the dinner table, Dad would stop eating, give the “talker” a piercing hot stare that could boil the water in their glass…then clear his throat and forcefully state, “We have a six second rule in this house, and you’re not following it.”

  10. Mark says:

    He was a gruff old bird, but at least he’s offered actual, workable solutions instead of just gripes (perhaps those were provided on another document).

    The lack of warmth in the note is more than compensated by its practicality.

    • Melisa says:

      Mark is so right. The opposite end of the Holiday Fascist Spectrum lived with us—sitting silently, stealthily waiting for any member of his egg-shell-walking family to violate some unspoken, unknown & usually recently created Holiday Dinner Edict. As soon as the trap was sprung, the Great Paternal Hunter would POUNCE & an endless lecture would ensue…complete with arbitrarily enumerated rules regarding behavior (‘Rule #43: No singing at the table’).

      This continued throughout a lot of my childhood—until some of the cousins married a couple of really funny people. Then one married a non-Catholic, non-Polish, non-Us hippy who was either perpetually high, brain-damaged or flat out nuts cuz she would audibly marvel at our ‘dinner tradition’ with a ‘Wow! cool! total freak out ‘. And finally, the youngest one married a woman (known to us nieces & nephews as ‘the Hump’) who was even less joyless than Our own Great Santini; her facial expressions, sneers & visibly growing back hump kept us kids in such fits, even we didn’t mind the dinners anymore ( best part was, since she was married to the youngest, the Hump ended up at the kids’ table–just one more in the long line of her lifetime slights).

      Over the years, we would all start out trying to behave…& he would still sit silently…but it wouldn’t take long before the first screw up would occur, with the freak out buildup close behind. But both tables would be in hysterics long before he blew. Eventually, even he saw how ridiculous it became.

      His last holiday with us, he stood up to make a speech (HUGE faux pas—’dinner is about eating; this isn’t your debut’). He spoke about how happy he was that his family surrounded him blah,blah,blah….but it was his ending that leveled the room: After all his years of holiday tyranny, the one thing he regrets most is that he was absolutely sure we were going to have a great time at his wAke & he was going to miss it!

      Turns out, the old guy DID have a sense of humor after all!

  11. Molly says:

    Was your father a military man? He seems to have some experience maneuvering troops.

  12. Hot food Lover says:

    As a person that likes his food hot I can relate to these instructions. I routinely have to zap my food in the microwave for 30 seconds so it is hot. Of course that makes me a social pariah. How people can eat mashed potatoes with the gravy congealing is beyond me. I should probably save this note so that when I am 92 and grumpy about cold food I have a reminder of how a good meal should be planned.

  13. Ginny says:

    Thank you Larry for sharing this gem from your father. I hope you were able to monitor the heat as assigned so the parents could enjoy a hot Thanksgiving Dinner. I hope those traditions are still practiced each year with fond memories.

    • Larry says:

      Thanks, Ginny! We definitely try to keep my father’s traditions alive. The 2004 Thanksgiving certainly kept us on our toes..I recounted the whole story of that day in a post called “I’ll Manage the Heat. Just Stay Out of the Kitchen”….sent to my siblings, and now recounted on Quirky Family Stories

  14. Jen says:

    So Marnie has a sister?

  15. CarrieM says:

    I liked “Sprite or nothing.” And the fact that he drew his own lines on the paper. That’s….. amazing.

  16. db says:

    Why did he write “Canned Whip Cream” in the lower-righthand corner?

  17. Caryn says:

    My favorite part is ‘Sprite or nothing.’ This is pure awesomeness. Milk? No, you’ve been offered Sprite. End of discussion.

  18. Teresa says:

    Hilarious!! I especially love “Sprite or nothing”!

  19. Mike says:

    I love his parting shot (which I agree with)–

    “Canned Whip Cream”

    Gramps sounds like a real military man!

  20. CarrieM says:

    I love the hand-ruled paper and the phrase “Sprite or nothing.” This is awesome. Members of my family have the same tendencies, but no one’s written it out so beautifully. Thanks for sharing this.

  21. terri333 says:

    And…..don’t forget the canned whipped cream! :) This is priceless!

  22. Laura says:

    In my experience, if there’s one thing that makes a dinner cold it’s too much talking!!!

  23. Ruby says:

    And in case you forget, Canned Whip Cream.

  24. Lucindaa says:

    This is awesome.

  25. Katie B. says:

    I read this out loud to my husband, who then quipped, “It sounds like someone had a bad Thanksgiving experience the year before!” Whew. Nothing sours the mood like cold food.

    • Larry Blass says:

      This Thanksgiving wasn’t terribly different from any our family experienced in prior years…Dad has had kitchen control tendencies for as long as I’ve known him. When we were growing up, he did grocery shopping for our large family DAILY when he got home from work – and when heard him calling out “Bucket brigade!” my sibling and I knew that was our cue to drop everything, run down to the garage entrance, and systematically line up to move the bags from car to kitchen to refrigerator. Eight grocery bags were routinely unloaded – with contents placed in the proper locations – in about three minutes.

  26. CB says:

    I want to know what a “filler up” adult looks like. Honesly, I could see this going as planned if all the adults were on board….not sure if a fun time could be had by all, though….those poor, silenced children. lol.

    • Larry Blass says:

      A “filler up” adult, in Dad’s eyes, was simply someone who would dish out the meal in order to expedite the efficiency of the buffet line, discourage any superfluous conversation, and make sure everyone’s meal made it to the table NICE AND HOT.

      Even Dad remained mentally sharp, his hearing was a little off….so he wasn’t always fully aware of the fact that people WERE talking up a storm. LOL

      • CB says:

        That’s awesome. Honestly, it sounds like something I would be inclined to want to organize–he can come run my holiday meals anytime! ;-)

  27. shirley elizabeth says:

    I take it he didn’t enjoy Thanksgiving 2003.

  28. Dan says:

    Enjoy your family. Discourage talking.

  29. Ellie says:

    I have to say, this just seems like good planning to me. The only part that gets intense is the line, “Try to discourage talking.” Hahaha…

    • Larry Blass says:

      Growing up, in a family of seven kids, we were instructed NOT to make a sound at the dinner table. If we did, Dad would remind us that we be “losing out” on the nutritional benefits of the meal.

      Dad had a way of planning EVERYTHING with great intricacy. When I first read this letter to my brother prior to the 2004 event, he said, “You’d think he were launching the space shuttle.”

  30. Joan says:

    I bet you’re related to Marnie, huh?

  31. Lucy says:

    So, did the dinner go as Dad scripted?

    I am impressed that at 92, your father still has all his marbles. And what a nice handwriting! My grandfather was a teacher in the ’50s. I was 5 when he passed away, so I only have very limited memories of him. However, my mom kept one of his lesson plans, and I was so impressed how nice his handwriting was.

    I hope you keep notes like this in a scrap book so you can show them to your grandchildren. It will be priceless.

    • Larry Blass says:

      Well, yes and no. Dad thought he had the upper hand, but couldn’t understand why the kitchen wasn’t as busy as in previous years, where his dictates were adhered to 100%. Partially because we went rogue on him and actually had everything CATERED…without his knowledge.

      My Dad was a VERY impressive figure at 92 – sadly, he passed on in 2007, but he is with us in spirit every Thanksgiving. Even among his great-grandchildren, he remains a legend!

      I think we may still have an unopened bottle of Sprite in the basement from that Thanksgiving. I’m sure it must be flat by now.

      • CB says:

        What a full life he must have led! Still vey sad to hear of his passing. He sounds like a great man–makes me wish I’d known him!…..and had him plan a family vacation for me. I admire his efficiency!

Leave a Reply

View Mobile Site