Thanksgiving is for families and friends are family today

Listen to this article

Today is the day we express our continuing gratitude for the bountiful goodness of our lives. And for us, many of us anyway, there is a lot for which we can be thankful.

It doesn’t feel like it though, not every day, not every Thanksgiving. It’s hard to pull up that feeling of gratitude that seems like it should be so natural for Thanksgiving Day.

The prelude to Thanksgiving is always melancholy. This year, as in the previous … many years … my Thanksgiving companions will be a circle friends. Like all the years before that I’ve spent with these friends it will be a great Thanksgiving. It just doesn’t feel like it at the moment

With family scattered from one end of the country to the other and points in between, it’s hard to get us all together for this holiday. Things being what they are, it’s difficult to make arrangements to visit with any of them.

Ultimately, Thanksgiving is a family holiday.

Back in the day, our wayward brothers and sisters would gather at the family home, 6254 West Idaho St. in Milwaukee, WI, with Mom and Dad. Mom didn’t have the luxury of prepared mashed potatoes, she did everything from scratch, including the cranberries.

This one particular Thanksgiving, when the three oldest had moved out and the eldest, Carl, was married, it proved to be the last time the entire family enjoyed Thanksgiving together — 1972 I think.

And “enjoyed” might not accurately describe the whole day because it was also the Thanksgiving when our oldest brother Carl dropped the bomb.

The back of the house on Idaho St. The window on the left is the “ghost” window. (Photo by Tim Forkes)
The back of the house on Idaho St. The window on the left is the “ghost” window.
(Photo by Tim Forkes)

Okay, this story goes back many decades. Rick was about seven maybe, don’t really remember that minor detail. Anyway, Carl was still living at home and was out one night. Rick was coyly brushing his curls in the mirror in the sisters’ bedroom. Why? I don’t know. I was fast asleep in the boys’ room.

So anyway, Rick was brushing his hair, late at night in the girls’ room, which faces out on the back yard. The drapes were open and the window was opposite the mirror. Well, up in the window a ghostly visage appeared. Rick turned around to get a better look and let out a scream that woke up the entire Southside of Milwaukee, including me.

Mom tried getting into the girls’ room, but Rick was trying so hard to get out, neither could budge the door. By this point the ghostly visage had disappeared. Once Mom got into the room Rick jumped into her like a leech refusing to let go, screaming, “Don’t go in! Don’t go in!” Or something like that.

Dad and the neighborhood men scoured the area for hours, looking for the culprit or clues, but nothing was found. It was the mystery of all mysteries for years. What was it — who was it — that scared the bejesus out of Rick all those years ago. For years we talked about the incident with reverence and fear, knowing that at any moment, some crazed person wrapped in a scary white sheet would be peeking in the windows to scare the living hell out of us, once and for all.

  • Years after the “ghost in the window” incident, when Rick and I had Milwaukee Sentinel routes, delivered in the wee hours of the morning, we were crazed persons … so to speak. Crazed by our raging teenage hormones.

The best memory from that night was that it was the first time I got to drink an entire bottle of Coca-Cola by myself! Up until that night I always had to share. Ah yes!

Myself (left) with two of the principle participants in the family ghost story: Carl, the ghost (middle) and Rick, the victim (right). We miss both of them. (Photo provided by Tim Forkes)
Myself (left) with two of the principle participants in the family ghost story: Carl, the ghost (middle) and Rick, the victim (right).
We miss both of them.
(Photo provided by Tim Forkes)

Soon there after I actually ordered a cheeseburger from McDonald’s and shortly after that, a double cheeseburger! Bet you didn’t Coca-Cola was a gateway drug!

So, back to the Thanksgiving Dinner at Mom and Dad’s on Idaho St. This was about 1972 and once again the story of “Rick’s Big Scare,” the “Ghost in the Window” incident, came up as a topic of conversation. Carl’s relatively new wife was dining with us so she had to hear the story.

The story unfolded from Mom’s lips, which were quivering with fear at the appropriate moments and filled with righteous rage … whoever would do such a thing to one of her children would feel the wrath of God. If Mom ever laid her hands on that scoundrel, that degenerate hoodlum … well believe you me, they would have paid and paid dearly. God would have no choice but to be merciful after Mom got her hands on the miscreant.

Curiously, down the table out of striking distance from Mother and her serving utensils, our Dear Brother Carl smiled, and then began to giggle — and then laugh out loud!

“What the hell is so funny?”

So Carl told us his side of the story. He was coming home from wherever the heck he was that night and before walking in the back door he stopped in the backyard to have one more smoke before entering the house. Apparently he was cutting through the yards to get home on time. Plus, he wasn’t old enough to smoke legally so he did it on the sly.

While having a smoke, Carl saw Rick coyly brushing his hair in the mirror and was overcome with a great idea! Finding a baby carriage with a white sheet on the patio, Carl grabbed the sheet and crept up to the window. Carl was sneaky in his youth.

He put the sheet over his head, raised himself up and tapped on the glass: tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap, until Rick turned around to look. And the rest, as they say, is family folklore.

You should have heard Mom shriek when she found out who was responsible for the terrible night over a decade earlier. We seriously thought Carl was going to die that Thanksgiving, but Mom didn’t kill him. I guess having Allida (Carl’s wife) there, a possible witness for the prosecution, saved Carl’s life.

After that initial unveiling of the secret of the “Ghost in the Mirror,” the story was told with humor and laughs. Hell, we still laugh at it when we tell it in family circles. That story never goes out of style and most likely won’t, even though three of the principles are no longer with us.

And that is why the days and moments leading to Thanksgiving are filled with melancholy.

My dear sister Elaine and brothers Carl and Rick are no longer with us. Last year Rick and I, along with our brother Ken, planned to spend Thanksgiving together. Unfortunately Rick passed away just a month before the holiday.

Carl and Harriet Forkes; I’m certain she would have killed our brother Carl if we hadn’t been there. (Photo provided by Tim Forkes)
Carl and Harriet Forkes; I’m certain she would have killed our brother Carl if we hadn’t been there.
(Photo provided by Tim Forkes)

How beautiful and fun it would be to hear Rick and Carl embellish the ghost story one more time around the Thanksgiving table.

Instead I’ll share the ghost story here and maybe the remaining family will read it and get a chuckle and a smile; maybe one of us will remember a Carl or Rick embellishment. And Elaine’s hearty laugh, because she laughed every time the story was told as if it were the first time she was hearing it.

Yes, there are those who are no longer with us and we remember them fondly, affectionately, on Thanksgiving and express our gratitude for having them in our lives for all those years.

Parents, I miss both of mine, but it’s my sister and brothers a really miss every Thanksgiving.

My family and my friends, I am quite thankful to have them in my life today, whether here in San Diego, around the country or in my memories. My friends and I will gather around a big table and have a great feast, being of service to one another in the process. Because family comes in many forms and this year this circle of friends is my family.

That will make for a pretty nice day as well. Have a nice Thanksgiving.