Most everyone has their own set of Thanksgiving memories, and I am lucky to have my own set of happy recollections of this great American holiday.

My earliest memories are of having big family dinners on my dad’s side of the family, usually at Grandma Buttgen’s house in my hometown of Davenport, Iowa.

Grandpa Buttgen would tell us stories of his family’s traditions that go all the way back to the “old country,” which I was never sure if it was Germany or northern Missouri.

Anyway, he said his family didn’t have turkey for dinner. Instead, they ate swan and all of the kids would be forced to wrestle for the right to get the neck — not much different than my generation’s tradition of battling for the turkey wishbone, where we each grabbed it and broke it in half and whoever got the bigger half was declared the winner and got to make a wish.

My own dad used to say that when they were growing up in the Depression, his family was so poor that his dad made the kids tell lies at the dinner table so they could eat their words.

But I digress.

I do recall one Thanksgiving dinner we hosted at our home with dozens of cousins and lots of aunts and uncles coming over for a big turkey dinner. My (dearly departed) mom used to get up at 5 a.m. to start cooking, and she had to prepare two turkeys, I remember.

Anyway, one year my cousin Patti Jo (also dearly departed) and I played a prank on the rest of the family. There was a relish tray with lots of green olives, pickles, etc. The olives were stuffed with red pimentos, which I didn’t care for. So when no one was looking, we pulled the pimentos out of the olives and squirted ketchup into the empty hole of the green olives. They looked great.

But as soon as my Uncle Merle popped the first olive into his mouth and spit it out, our giggles turned to looks of fear, as not one single adult thought our prank could be considered funny.

It put a short-lived damper on the rest of the meal, but I don’t think our punishment was too severe. Patti Jo and I talked about that day for many, many years into the future, and we could never recall which one of us was the mastermind.

In more recent times, my wife and I were joined in wedlock on the Saturday after Thanksgiving of 1984, so that was a memorable year for all of us.

Then, in 1995, yours truly took over the job of cooking the family’s turkey dinner, as Julie was more than 8 months pregnant. And, believe it or not, I did a pretty good job of it, if I say so myself.

I also learned that I shouldn’t have told everyone how easy it was to do a turkey, but that’s another story for another day.

For the last 20 years or so, most of our Thanksgivings have been celebrated at Julie’s parents’ home over in Montpelier, Ohio. And between Julie and her mom, they always put together a first-class meal for us to enjoy.

The most important thing about this holiday is that we really do have a lot to be thankful for. The love and company of our families; no shortage of food or shelter; and we enjoy a relatively safe life here in the good old U.S. of A.

So here’s hoping you and your family have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving, to be followed by Christmas in December.

And remember the No. 1 rule of Thanksgiving: Save room for pie!

Retired newspaper editor Bob Buttgen, believe it or not, does not like dressing or stuffing or whatever you want to call it. He can be reached by email at

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