Thanksgiving in the Tavern

Thanksgiving in the Tavern

The most out-of-the-ordinary Thanksgiving I ever had was at the Uptown Village Café, a family tavern in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. My Auntie Marge and Uncle Al owned the café in the late 30’s and 40’s, and they always kept it open on holidays because many of their older customers practically lived there. Uncle Al made hot toddies for his patrons every year so they could celebrate with old friends.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1950, my new husband and I were the out-of-state relatives, so it was decided that Thanksgiving dinner would be in the tavern even though we were surrounded by customers laughing, drinking, and playing shuffle board. The waitresses used card tables to extend one of the booths almost out to the shuffle board game where three happy old men were in the middle of a noisy, hot competition. Instead of the shuffle board surface being on the floor, it was like a long, miniature bowling alley on legs. The polished oak surface was so beautifully slick that the shiny steel discs shot across it like greased lightning.

After our makeshift dining table was prepared with napkins, wine glasses, plates, and utensils, the relatives claimed their assigned seats, and the buttery golden turkey, trimmings, and side dishes were placed in the middle of us. What a scrumptious sight and smell. Uncle Al wanted to do everything right, and with no forewarning, announced, “We have never had a Thanksgiving dinner in this tavern before, so I feel we should give thanks to God for this memorable event. Denny, since you’re a preacher’s son would you do the honors?”

Denny was accustomed to leading a group in prayer, but not in a tavern. He hesitated, unsure of what to do next because the mix of dance music, beer mug clinks, laughter, cash register dings, and steel discs clanging against each other on the shuffle board were not a churchy soundtrack. Denny was comfortable being a preacher’s kid but I had never seen him so flustered. He took a slow, deep breath and said, “Everyone…please, let us bow our heads.” It gave us time to pull ourselves together, which was all the time needed for the beer-drinking patrons to take notice.

My head was bowed but my eyeballs were straining sideways to see why everything was suddenly hushed in the tavern. The radio had been shut off, steel discs were no longer sliding, and all nearby patrons stood silently in place, with heads bowed.

Denny waited a moment with eyes closed and then said loud enough for all to hear, “Dear God — on this exceptional Thanksgiving Day, we ask that you be with us in this tavern. Bless the hands that prepared the food for the nourishment of our souls and bodies. We thank you Lord for our many blessings — and may we live in peace and harmony. Amen.”

Ever so slowly, things came back to life in the tavern, but Denny couldn’t stop grinning. He leaned closer and whispered, “Honey, that was so weird.”
Uncle Al must have read my husband’s mind and said, “Denny, what would Reverend Auchard say about you giving thanks to God in a tavern?”
“Al, my dad would say ‘Amen and halleluiah’ to that.”

Do you recall a noteworthy, oddball, or uncommon Thanksgiving? If so, share it with us now as a Comment.

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