Thanksgiving Essay:50 years ago and now
Thanksgiving morning 7 o’clock, 1960, or so: I awaken to the aroma of roasting turkey wafting up to my attic bedroom. My mother, Jeanette, started her Thanksgivings very early. Just maybe, there’s a bit of turkey to sample, maybe the crisp tip of a wing ready to pilfer while the chef (momentarily) leaves the kitchen.
A Confession: while for my mother Thanksgiving was about cooking, for my father and three brothers it was about eating and of course football. For context know that our home was located on Chestnut Street directly across from Simpson Field – the athletic field and football stadium for Roselle High (Abraham Clark High School). It’s now called Ralph Arminio field after the Roselle’s great basketball coach during the the 50’s and 60’s.  (See end note for more information.)
Every other year “Simpson” was the site of the traditional Thanksgiving morning grid classic between Roselle and arch rival Roselle, Park. As we ate breakfast (sadly not turkey) we could hear the drums, horns, tubas as the band warmed up for the big game. If my memory serves me (and is not too selective) we (the Rams) usually beat Park (the Panthers). In my senior year (1961) we beat Roselle Park 26-0. Last year the Rams aced the Panthers once more (35-0) and unbelievably the Roselle beat Park by the same score (35-0) this Thanksgiving. 
At the end of the big game we rushed home lusting at the prospect of roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, chopped liver, and an assortment of pies. We rushed into the house, and inhaled the mouthwatering aromas – “when will it be ready.”
There was, however, another reason for wanting to eat soon – we wanted to finish eating in time to see football games on TV Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers. After several years we had the timing down – dessert at half-time or between games. Mom, Sorry; tell me, you were thankful anyway. See response by mother, Jeanette Malinow, in the comments section.
The dining room table: As I look back I am very thankful for my parents. They loved us boys and cared for us well. They made a good table for us – nourishing and a place of great humor and learning. My father, Archie, in those days was the editor of a large number of union news letters – containing news about the latest negotiations between IUE-AFL-CIO and GE or Westinghouse and photo after photo of local union officials and members – once in a while an action photo of a picket line.
Those newsletters were not collated on a big machine. They were assembled around our dining room table by the brothers and whatever friends we could recruit from the Simpson Field basketball court across the street. The pages were assembled in order around the table and all of us would walk clockwise around the table picking up and collating as we walked; in one corner there was a big carton where we stashed the copies. Of course it was fun and there was often a payoff at the end (something good to eat or some spending money).
My parents were both actively engaged in movements for social and economic justice. We talked and debated politics; the dining room table was a great forum.
Those were good times: I can distinctly remember that our family’s economic lot was improving – at the start of my freshman year (1957) we moved into our own house after years of living in an apartment far two cramped for the six of us. We had our own rooms, a big backyard, a gold fish pond, and a wild male beagle, Dewy.
John F. Kennedy was in the White House. My little office had a picture of our leader and a small American flag. True, I didn’t spend a whole lot of Thanksgiving “being thankful” but somewhere inside, I knew that things were good. America was on the rise.
However, John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, 1000 days into his first term and just before Thanksgiving. Perhaps this was a kind of turning point for America. Soon we would be sending hundreds of thousands of youth to Vietnam — many like the Ram footballer Sylvester Land (see notes below) never returned.
Fifty Years Later: We now live in a very different America. The middle class is shrinking, unemployment hovers near the 10 percent level. More than two-million additional Americans will run out of unemployment benefits tomorrow unless Republican members of Congress reverse their opposition to an extension. RealtyTrac reported a record number of foreclosure filings (nearly one million) in the third quarter of 2010. As we start the Holiday Season, record numbers of people are showing up at food pantries. All while the wealthy continue to reap wealth.
I recently gave a guest lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, my faculty “alma mater.” At the very start of the class, I polled the students to determine their thoughts about their economic future. When I asked for a show of hands for those having confidence in their future, not one of the 50 or so students raised their hands. When I asked whether they were fearful, every student raised a hand.
This Thanksgiving: As usual my wife, son Lou and I traveled up to Connecticut and New Jersey to spend the holiday weekend with our families. Genya (Yevgeniy) our older son is doing his Peace Corps stint in Armenia. We visited my mother, all three of my brothers and their families, and Claudia’s extended family. I am very thankful for our huge and growing families; no one is on an unemployment line or threatened with foreclosure. I am thankful for the rural Maryland community in which we live – a community is growing closer as a result of our new farm and food market (Our Local Bounty). Last Saturday we celebrated the end of the market’s first year with food and drink, music, poetry, and warm companionship.
I am thankful for all of this. But I am greatly saddened by the state of our nation — that we have an economy that increasingly fails to provide for the most basic needs of American families. We seem to have lost our way, our ability to work together, our sense of community, the wisdom of our predecessors. My prayer is that we learn to be thankful for what is really precious, family, community and a nation that cares for all of its citizens.
 Ralph Arminio: During my senior year we had the Ram hoopsters has an unbelievable 26-0 record and swept both the Watchung Conference and Union County NJ championships. Ralph was a great educator and kind human being.
 After all we had some great players including Freddy Porter (All-County end), Tim Kempson, Randy Seppelt, Richard Souels (one of the greatest broken field runners ever) and many others: Jerry McDonald, Stan Fink, Don Walker, Jimmy Argyros, Willy Nichols, Joe Yopcavage, and who could ever forget Al DePalma (the great doo-wap singer who always had a clever retort). And how about the Ram Grid Iron coaches: Donald Schaffer, Verge Bork, and Harry Morson — not only great coaches but mentors and fine human beings.
One of the Rams players was Sylvester Land, a spirited classmate, who died in the Vietnam war. Just before Thanksgiving, a new and beautiful field in Roselle in his name will be used for Pop Warner football and other youth sports.
Actually over the long haul Park leads the ancient series: 47-36-8. But, let’s not forget that Roosevelt (Rosey) Grier (all star NY Football Giant and later one of the LA Ram’s fearsome foursome) graduated from Roselle High in 1953. Once in a while he shot hoops with us kids at Simpson Field as part of his summer training.
Robert F. Kennedy Assassination: Rosey was the body ‘s guard of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy’s wife Ethel at a June 1968 campaign event in Los Angeles, CA. After the shots were fired, Grier subdued Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin. Click for more on Rosey Grier. (Correction: The original post incorrectly stated that Grier was RFK’s body guard).