A Thanksgiving Day Always Remembered

Except for sleep, my parents never closed their luncheonette. They opened every day at 6 a.m. and seldom closed before 10 p.m.

Except for sleep, my parents never closed their luncheonette. They opened every day at 6 a.m. and seldom closed before 10 p.m.
Except for sleep, my parents never closed their luncheonette. They opened every day at 6 a.m. and seldom closed before 10 p.m.

As genocide survivors, they realized how much the Promised Land had promised them. Long hours. Hard work. Plenty of gratitude. Not much of a social life.

A week’s hiatus come summer was as rare as a turkey with longevity. Vacations were pretty much out of the question, much less a Sunday breather.

It wasn’t all about the money. Dad, especially, remained loyal to his clientele. If he closed, where would his customers eat? He kept their welfare at heart and hand. Mother balked at his stubborn ways. But in the end, it was the man of the house who usually got his way.

With Thanksgiving on its way, what to do? Would he shut his doors and relax at home with family, or remain open and turn his establishment into a catered “free-for-all.”

“You’re going to do what?” my mother cried out. “You’re going to stay open on Thanksgiving Day and feed your customers? Are you out of your mind?”

And that’s precisely what Dad did. Furthermore, my mother, brother, and myself were commissioned to act as helpers, just like any other day.

So Dad went to work spreading the word. As customers ambled by for their eggs and hash, he passed along an invitation that was hard to refuse.

“Hey, Joe! You doing anything for Thanksgiving dinner?”

“Nothing special, why? You have something in mind?”

“Why don’t you stop by for a turkey dinner—on the house,” he proposed. “It’s my way of wishing the neighborhood a happy Thanksgiving.”

The word spread like wildfire. Belong long, the faithful who kept his business going each day would not be without a Thanksgiving. And the more Mother balked, the more she grew acclimated to the idea.

A lot of it, I suppose, had to do with the fact they were both genocide survivors and grateful for being alive. They had a lot to be thankful for as God-fearing Christians. Not only thankful for the bounty which they enjoyed as immigrants. But thankful for what they escaped—a genocide that saw thousands die of starvation and abuse.

Pretty soon others hopped aboard. Every vagrant in town heard about the free meal for Thanksgiving. Those with a dime in their pocket took the trolley. Others simply walked to the luncheonette.

On this day, my mother recruited her sister and my father tapped his brother. Some of my cousins also joined the serving line.

The turkeys were prepared at home and transported to the eatery, along with the rest of our menu. Everything from soup to nuts, including pies and ice cream for dessert.

Music from the jukebox provided entertainment. People who didn’t have a place to go found companionship here. And the blessings to which we are all entitled.

I cannot recall if such hospitality was ever rendered again. I think that Mother’s adamant behavior eventually paid off and, like Christmas, it became more of a family day at home.

One thing did change, however. The local church caught wind of Dad’s kindness and he became a “marked” man. Every single charity case wound up at his counter.

“The church up the street sent me,” the derelicts would say. “Could you spare a meal for a hungry soul?”

Dad never turned his back on a person in need. Except once, that I recall. A man came in shaking a tin cup, pretending he was hearing impaired. He was looking for a handout.

Knowing there was something suspicious about the individual, he called me over and whispered something in my ear.

“Go behind that man and drop a dish on the floor.”

A loud crash followed as the conniver turned around to take notice. He grabbed the man by the collar and showed him the door, calling him a disgrace to mankind.

As customers came and went, so did the stack of IOUs from the indigent. “Put it on my cuff,” they would say to Dad as my mom winced with skepticism. That was vernacular for “Please credit my account and I’ll pay you when I can.”

The day he died and was laid to rest, so did the outstanding bills his customers owed him. But nobody ever forgot the Thanksgiving dinner he served up that day.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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