By SAM VAIL
Growing up in a Jewish family there aren’t many “big” holidays to celebrate, and the important holidays I spend with mainly just my immediate family. My family’s Thanksgiving is different than other holidays, for starters, it always takes place at my grandfather’s and great aunt’s houses in Rochester. Their houses are conveniently located across the street from each other, making it a little easier to fit the 30 family members who are in for the holiday. As soon as my parents get out of work the day that school break starts we are on the road to Grandad’s house and all the excitement begins.
Last year my immediate family was the last group of Vails to arrive. As soon as we got out of the car we were welcomed by my cousins Nathan and Aaron. Nathan and my brother Jamie are both two years older than me, and Aaron is two years older than the both of them, so naturally, he is the ringleader of our group. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without the four of us getting together and having crazy, fun, and mostly stupid ideas of the different ways we should amuse ourselves. One year we decided it would be a great idea to have a Red Sox vs Yankees rival fight inside my great aunt’s house. We jumped from bed to bed tackling each other and yelling insults, but Aaron had decided to take the fight to a whole new level.
As Jamie went to go tackle Nathan, Aaron whipped out a sandbag and hit Jamie as hard as he could with it. The sandbag exploded causing sand to go everywhere! We were all silent for a second, and then everyone burst into laughter for a solid five minutes. Pretty soon we realized that we should clean up the mess to avoid getting in trouble, but it was too late. Aaron and Nathan’s dad had opened the door to check in on us, and we knew by his expression that it would be the last time we were allowed to play rough inside the house.
My dad grew up in Rochester, and he always loves to take my cousins and I out exploring on Pinnacle Hill. Pinnacle Hill is located on the north end of Hemingway Drive; my dad used to climb up while exploring or hanging out with his friends back when he was in high school. When we were younger my cousins and I used to pretend that we were adventurers searching a new land as we would climb up the hill, which seemed as big as a mountain at the time. We would try to be stealthy as we climbed not knowing what we would encounter in the woods, and even the crackle of leaves under my feet could cause my cousins to shush me. From the top of Pinnacle, you can get a good view of downtown Rochester, and it’s the perfect spot for a picnic. There used to be a rope swing up by the top of the hill. Unfortunately, the branch it was on fell over a few years ago. Every year my dad tells us different stories about how he would come sledding on the hill with his friends in the winter, or have campfires up there in the summer. The descent from the top of the hill is always quicker than the ascent, as we usually run most of the way back down from the peak. When we arrive back at my grandfather’s we are usually just in time for dinner.
The food at Thanksgiving is delicious. On Thanksgiving my mother and aunts never let any of the men come close to the kitchen. Instead, we usually get together for a big game of two-hand touch football in Grandad’s front yard. Five years ago it had been drizzling all day on, but we wouldn’t let the rain get in the way of our football game. We decided to play, anyway. Immediately after the game had begun my brother tripped and fell into the mud, covering himself head to toe. For the rest of that game I ran my hardest to get away from his muddy hands. Around 6 o’clock we usually get dinner started, and with 30 family members, there is always a struggle to find enough places for everyone to sit. Usually, we have three tables; one for the older family members, and two for the middle-aged members. We don’t have a kids table anymore because for most Thanksgivings I am the youngest one there, and I’m 17 years old now. All of the food is amazing but every year I’m looking forward to the mashed potatoes and gravy, and there is always more than enough for everyone to eat.
After everyone has had their fair share of food it’s time for dessert. As the counter is cleared the pies are brought out, and they are every flavor anyone could ever need, apple, pumpkin, raspberry, blueberry, banana, and grape. My personal favorite is a slice of pumpkin pie with one scoop of vanilla ice cream. As everyone eats their dessert, the focus of the family is shifted into the living room where Dad and Dove get out their guitars and the whole family sings songs for hours. As this is going on Nathan and I sneak off to the garage where my great aunt keeps her fireworks. At 92-years-old her favorite thing to do is set off fireworks, so every year Nathan and I continue to create a firework show. After we finish the fireworks it is usually pretty late so most people head to sleep. The next few days are just as fun and packed as the first days of our vacation, but sure enough, the worst part of Thanksgiving always comes, saying goodbye. My family always leaves on the Sunday after Thanksgiving because I have school on Monday and my parents have work. As we drive out of Rochester I think about all the memories I had just made, and I start to get excited for the next Vail Family Thanksgiving.
Sam Vail is our high school intern and a senior at Bethlehem Central High School.