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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  • Sandi

    And here I thought I’d heard all your Thanksgiving stories…this was delightful! My Thanksgiving celebrations have been fairly traditional, except that at my maternal grandparents’ home, we usually had pheasant, duck, rabbit, etc., in addition to turkey.

  • admin

    Sandi, in additioin to turkey, you had a pheasant, duck, and rabbit? Wowy wow. I once substituted roast goose for a turkey because it seemed traditional and old fashioned. That’s when I learned about goose grease. I had no idea that anything with feathers could be that oily.

  • Karen Llewellyn

    It wasn’t a Thanksgiving, but a trip to see Sunset Strip in LA. In the mid-70s the Strip was a really mixed bag, as they used to say. I had left my radio job in Oregon and was with about seven friends, all of us in staff training with Campus Crusade for Christ. We ended up at a diner somewhere along the way and I, not knowing the habits of some Christians to have a sort of competition NOT to be the one saying grace, ended up being “chosen.” We held hands around the table and I said my simple thanks to God. After which, one of my friends commented loudly, “Karen, when you say grace, you use your radio voice!”

  • Betty Auchard

    Karen,was your friend telling you that you “used your radio voice or that you “should” use your radio voice? Either way it sounds like an audition doesn’t it? The first time I ever found myself in a prayer circle where each person prayed when it was his turn, I was caught unprepared and after a few seconds said, “I pass,” as though it was a poker game.

  • Karen Llewellyn

    She was saying I used the radio voice when I prayed. But there were a bunch of us around the table and I HATEwhen people mumble a prayer and nobody else has any idea what they said. Why, when you say “Amen” you might be agreeing with something really unbiblical! :)