My sister, Carol, pitched a writing idea to my other sister, Christy, and me. We both agreed to her idea. The idea: Carol would give all three of us the same writing assignment regarding our lives growing up and we'd see how similarly or differently the same thing looks from our three persepectives. Our first assignment is to write about Thanksgiving at the Jerry and Corrine Turnbow house.
When I first started hearing reports of steamy jungles in Viet Nam, when I was around ten years old, I always thought that Viet Nam must be like the Turnbow household on Thanksgiving Day. The house was thick with steam which made the smells of the creamed onions, fresh-baked bread, turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, gravy, and the many varieties of whiskey, vodka, gin, and brandy sitting on the kitchen counter palpable, as if the smells could be held in my hand. This steaminess also afforded us kids to write messages on steamed windows.
A non-negotiable value on Thanksgiving Day at the Turnbow's was respect your elders. When Glen Waltman, the Turnbow brothers' uncle on their mother's side, arrived at Jerry and Corrine's everything stopped. The nephews and their friends shook Glen's hand reverently. They not only treated him with deference, they nearly worshiped his presence and made sure the younger kids, like myself, paid their homage by shaking his hand. Once Glen had his whiskey in hand, he became like everyone else, and equality among all was established.
Likewise, Dorothy Turnbow's mother, LaRue McCoy, was afforded reverence. She held court in the breakfast nook at the Turnbow's and my dad always found time during half-time or while we served ourselves dinner to take me to LaRue and say hello. I always knew what was coming. LaRue would take a break from her clear alcohol drink and look at me and say, "Oh you should have seen your daddy the day you were born, Billy. He cried like a baby. I think he cried more than you did! Now you be good to your daddy. He's very proud of you. Has been from the very start. I know. I was with him when you were born."
When I was a boy, I cringed when LaRue repeated this story every Thanksgiving. I didn't know if I was being good to my daddy. I occasionally swiped quarters from a bank my mom kept in the kitchen cupboard; some mornings I woke up before anyone else and ate straight brown sugar from the box; I occasionally shoplifted baseball cards and penny candy from Donnie's Market when Jo Wombolt's back was turned; I sometimes asked to go to the bathroom at school and went there to sort out baseball cards, not relieve myself; I had started to play with matches in the basement; I'd learned to lie; I'd started talking back to teachers and to my mom. I didn't feel I was living up to LaRue's expectations of me.
I felt the same way in 1969 at the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Farragut State Park in North Idaho. I'd been assigned to Camp Baden-Powell, named after the founder of the Boy Scouts. His widow came to our camp. We formed a line and she received each of us. "What's your name?" "Bill Woolum." "Are you an Eagle Scout?" "No." "Are you going to be." "Yes." "Promise?" "Yes." I never became an Eagle Scout. It was like letting down LaRue McCoy.
Jerry Turnbow's brother Bob died two weeks ago. His brother Billy died over this past summer. LaRue has been dead for many years. So has Glen Waltman. Only two Turnbow brothers are still alive, Ted and Jerry. Were I to have Thanksgiving dinner with the Turnbows on November 23rd, Ted and Jerry would be the elders. They would be the only two voices left f the quartet that sang "Let It Snow" in the kitchen after the football games were over. Their bass, Glen Waltman is dead. So is the tenor, George Lyons. Ted recorded himself singing "My Way" and the tape was played at Bob Turnbow's funeral last week. I learned to hate the Crummy Cougars from Bob.
I hope to be in Kellogg for Thanksgiving this year. I haven't been home for Thanksgiving since 1990, the weekend my niece Molly was christened at the same time my Grandma West died in Orofino. Maybe this is what to be thankful for: births and deaths, lives to be lived and lives lived well passing away. I'm thankful for the Turnbow Thanksgivings, for all I learned about respecting my elders. Jerry and Corrine live in Fallon, NV now. I don't know what Ted and Dorothy do. Wherever I spend Thanksgiving this year, whether in Kellogg or Eugene, I'll take a moment and remember the steam, the creamed onions, the turkey, and the thought of my father giving thanks the day I was born by crying with LaRue McCoy.