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Thanksgiving Back By Popular Demand

November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: Last year at this time I wrote an essay about Thanksgiving 50 Years Ago and Now. We’ve had nearly a thousand reads on this post and received dozens of comments. In fact the site, which continues to get comments, has been a literal archive of memories for those of us who grew up in Roselle, NJ and/or went to Abraham Clark High School. Another post that has the same effect is a Memorial Day tribute to Sylvester Land, Class of 61 who died in the Vietnam War. The site links to a phenomenal poem commemorating Sylvester by his brother, Jessie. Take a look at these sites for some funny and poignant memories and football history. So we are repeating last year’s post with a few wrinkles. See all of the comments from and add your own.

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.

Author caught reliving a Thanksgiving moment from his youth

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. [1] (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. [2]

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, Dewey.

Addition: Dewey one day escaped from the house (he did this about once a week). But this time it was in the middle of football practice. And Dewey couldn’t resist all of the excitement across Chestnut. And there he was right in the middle of the varsity, with every team mate trying to tackle the dog and get him off the field. Finally, Dewey got tired or perhaps smelled a female doggy in heat and left Simpson. Coach Shaffer used this as a teachable moment. “Now boys, that’s what I call broken field running. Just move like that dog, they’ll never get ya!”

JFK: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

John F. Kennedy was in the White House.  My little bedroom 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 Sylvester Land (see notes below) never returned.


Fifty Years Later: We now live in a very different America. The middle class is shrinking. Some 25 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking. Millions of families lost their homes to foreclosure.   As we start the Holiday Season, record numbers of people are showing up at food pantries. All while the wealthy continue to reap wealth.

Unemployment line; Source: Discovery News

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. Graduates are burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of college loan debt. All of this bad news happens at a time when the wealthiest Americans have grown even wealthier and Tea-Party spurred GOP legislators attempt to gut Social Security and Medicare, and aid to education, the poor, and much more — while fighting to preserve the tax breaks for the super rich. I am very thankful that the Occupy Wall Street Movement has changed the debate in this nation — it’s no longer about government deficit but about an intertwined economy and political system that delivers to the powerful and wealthy while increasingly leaving the rest of us (99%) out in the cold. See the Occupy Movement’s initial (draft) platform for transforming our nation into a true democracy. You can add your own ideas. 

This Thanksgiving: This Thanksgiving we are again traveling 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. Six weeks ago we had an incredible journey to Armenia to visit him and to get to know this beautiful and fascinating country tucked between Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan — crossroads of east and west, north and south, past and present. I’m working on a post about Armenia.  

My son Genya (Yevgeniy) having lunch with at the Armenia Tree Project north of the Capital Yerevan

A scene from the Produce Market in Yerevan a place of great beauty and commotion

What’s different this year is that I’m now a grandpa. My daughter Rachael and husband Mars, had little Alex in July. I am very happy and thankful I am for this mitzvah and for all of our family and good friends.  Have a most wonderful Thanksgiving — and remember the “giving” part. Doing for others is something that can bring a great deal of happiness. AND DON’T PICK AT THE TURKEY BEFORE THE MEAL!

Grandpa with new baby Alex (July 2011)


[1] 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.

[2] 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).

Rosey Grier, football great, musician, humanitarian, Roselle alumni.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael D. Colford Sr. permalink
    February 13, 2018 1:02 pm

    Rosey Grier graduated from Roselle High School in 1950 not 1953. He is going on 86 yrs. old
    and if he graduated from A.C.H.S in 1953 , he would have been 21 yrs. old, rather than 18.

    Mike Colford Sr. class of 1957

  2. Carolyn Cole permalink
    November 25, 2011 7:48 pm

    Looking for Jeanette’s response???

  3. Joan Davidson permalink
    November 24, 2011 12:18 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving to all and especially to Henry who keeps the blog going with the latest.
    We all relish his essays and commentary.
    Be grateful for your blessings today and everyday!

    • Henry S. Cole, Ph.D. permalink*
      November 24, 2011 12:46 pm

      Thanks, Joan
      Here’s to a happy thanksgiving to your family and to everyone who sees these words. Best, Hank Cole

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