I am thankful for the memories!
I am grateful that at this stage of my life I still have the ability to actually recall the memories–something that I do not take for granted.
My intention for this Thanksgiving blog was simply to find a greeting postcard that would have some interesting background that I could highlight in a brief posting. My focus changed after finding my featured postcard. It had a picture I really liked but the background surrounding the card is lacking in substance.
I do not know the publisher of this embossed postcard, I only know that it was printed in Saxony.
This postcard was sent to Grandma Julia in 1909, in Plainville, Mass. The sender was “The Three Graces”, postmarked from Providence, RI. I have not yet been able to determine the exact identity of the three Graces. However, a while back I started trying to put the pieces together and if memory serves me correctly there is a connection somehow with her sisters. For more background on Grandma Julia, please see a previous posting such as: Intro to Grandma Julia and the Bitgood’s Pine Knoll Laboratory.
Since I had so little background to share about this postcard, my thoughts began to focus on some of my own Thanksgiving memories–those from younger years. And so it goes that the remainder of this writing will highlight a few of those memories and spotlight my grandfather’s sister, we called Auntie, and her son David. In addition, I will close with an honorable mention of my brother Mark, whose birthday would have hit on Thanksgiving this year, November 28th.
During my youngest childhood years, my mom was always the hostess for the family Thanksgiving Dinner, as well as, for Christmas. It was a tight squeeze in our apartment for the average of 14, or so, family members attending. Out would come the folding metal table, that I still possess to this day, being set up alongside our normal table. There was an archway between the living room and dining area and this extended seating area would encompass both spaces.
My mom would cook a huge turkey, always 20-something pounds. I can still remember going with her to the local turkey farm to get a fresh turkey. I seem to remember the entrance to that farm being on the south side of Route 117 past Quaker Lane heading into the West Warwick area–I could be wrong, of course, but it was in that general area.
As I grew a little older, my dad decided that all the work my mom had to put into the Thanksgiving Dinner was getting to be too much. He suggested we start a new tradition of going out to eat for the Thanksgiving dinner, still with a gathering of the same family members–and so a new tradition began and continued for several years. Of course, over those next few years we gained a member or two and we also suffered a few losses.
For a few years, we held our “new tradition” Turkey Day gathering at the Showboat, in Coventry, on Lake Tiogue. This local favorite landmark was shaped like a large boat. It began in the 1940’s, prior to World War II and was tragically destroyed by fire on January 16, 1976. Of the select few places we went for these Thanksgiving Day feasts, this one location remains my favorite memory.
According to my memory, the Showboat dinner began with great soup that was set out on the table in a large tureen–I can still picture that in my mind. Each family received their own whole turkey at the table and all the trimmings were served family style. Any leftovers were brought home and we had no clean up to worry about.
Other than the Showboat, we went a few times to the Meadowbrook Inn, in Charlestown, where both my brothers had worked at one time. We went to the Carriage Inn, in North Kingstown, at least once, maybe twice. The last of this dining-out tradition that I can remember was probably the very early 1980’s, at a place in South Kingstown that is long-since gone–it has changed hands several times since then.
The holidays always bring fond memories of Auntie and her son “Uncle David”. I tend to think of them both during this time more so than any other time of the year. She had one of the kindest souls that I have ever known.
I always looked forward to Auntie coming over to attend those early dinners, held at our apartment. We lived in the Greenwood section of Warwick, right on busy Route 5, Greenwich Avenue. She lived across the street from us in a little rental cottage during my younger years. Later on, her landlord, Mr. Palumbo, tore that place down to build a large apartment building. He was able to move her down the road a piece, to another place he owned. Her new apartment had been a barn that was renovated into living space for two single-level apartments. So, she did have one neighbor, it may have been a couple or just one younger man–can’t quite remember for sure. However, I can remember the man volunteered for the Big Brother organization and sometimes he had his young sidekick with him.
As the holidays approached, I always felt great anticipation for the arrival of my mom’s Cousin David from New York City–where he resided for many years. Us kids used to call him “Uncle” David because there was a large gap in age and it was not seen as proper for us to call an adult by their first name–even a cousin, I guess.
Auntie was born Annie Irene Watts on June 15, 1897, in England. She died in 1971, on a day that I will never forget–even though the actual date is not fresh at hand. She was in the hospital at that time. I can remember we were at the cottage in Charlestown and our close family friend, Mrs. Michaels, came over to deliver the message to my mom from the hospital–we had no phone there. It was like the world stopped for me that day.
Auntie was the youngest daughter of Jonas (died 1923) and Mary Jane (Pepper) Watts (died 1921)–they were married in 1880. They lived in Nottingham, England. Auntie was half-sister to Emma (from a different father), and full sister to Alice, Thomas William (my grandfather), and George Watts. She moved to the USA sometime after 1910 but prior to 1923 and remained here the rest of her life.
When I was very young I can remember when Auntie was blind, I don’t know when it first happened. I remember she had surgery that allowed her to see from one eye but she lost the other, which was replaced with a glass eye. She always lived close by to us and spoiled us very much–especially my middle brother Keith and myself. My oldest brother, Mark, seemed more favored by my grandmother since he was the first born so I think that had something to do with Auntie giving us younger two a little more attention. It was later on that I would have a closer relationship with my grandmother.
Since Auntie did not drive, my mom usually took her shopping on Saturday mornings, then my brother Keith and I would visit her. We watched cartoons followed by the other Saturday shows on her little TV.
When we had time off from school, Auntie would often take us on a bus ride to downtown Providence, or East Greenwich–back in the days when it was a pleasant thing to do. At that time Westminster Mall was closed off to traffic. Our first stop, downtown, was always at the Woolworth’s store–I can still see their lunch counter in my mind. One day, I had forgotten my shoulder-strapped hand bag at one of the counter stools and felt my heart race when I realized it. Luckily, when I ran back it was still there.
Our trips downtown always included shopping but I can remember Auntie having eye specialist appointments, as well. Before heading to the return bus stop, we commonly ate lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We also bought popcorn to feed the pigeons while waiting for the bus.
The below pictures include Auntie’s brother Uncle George, with two of them taken in 1964 when he came over for a visit.
The pictures are not the best, a little blurry, the one that shows him sitting outside on the lounger chair was taken at Auntie’s little rental cottage, when she lived across the street from us. The photo with the boats was taken at Galilee, Narragansett, RI, during his visit in 1964.
It was probably within the next couple of years that Auntie moved from the little cottage to the place further down the road. Sometime after she moved, I can remember that she had an operation on her leg that replaced a vein with a plastic version.
Auntie worked at Leviton Mfg., in Warwick, for many years as an inspector–of some kind. I can remember helping her by stamping green slips that went into the items she inspected.
About 1969, or so, Auntie went to live in a newly-built senior housing place, West Shore Terrace, in Warwick–the same place as my paternal grandparents. So, she was a little further away from us over those last couple of years, too far for us to walk–for the first time.
Auntie had never married. She became a single parent with a son born in 1930, David Bruce Watts. He died in 2010, after suffering with dementia issues.
David attended and graduated from St. Andrew’s School, in Barrington. He served in the Navy for a while. I do have his service records but they are not handy for me as I write this piece. David settled in New York City and worked for a large advertising company. I can remember him bringing us “Leg’s Eggs” when he came home for the holidays.
Every time he was visiting here in RI, he would go out running every day. I can remember running along a time or two when we were down at the beach cottage. He used to tell us stories about his routine of running in Central Park, near where he lived in NYC. He also spoke about dreams of moving back to RI and opening a Judo school. He was a Judo instructor in NYC for many years, I do have some of his papers and awards for that, as well.
When I was young, David had a Japanese girl friend, she had come home with him to RI for Christmas several times. I remember she was a dancer in the Martha Graham dancers. She was just beautiful and I was quite fascinated with her. One time, she even wore her traditional Japanese Kimono for us and explained it all.
David never married, though, and had no children.
After Auntie died, we gave David the Concertina that had belonged to her and he found someone in NYC to give him lessons and he would play for us when he came to visit. I think he even purchased a new one at some point and played in a little band. Just for fun, I think.
He disconnected with the rest of us left in RI after my grandmother died, so sometime around 1983. It became a very difficult issue for me and something I still don’t understand what his reason was for doing so. I also wondered if I did something or said something. At some point, he talked with my middle brother to discuss his health issue which was not discussed with me. Personally, I never heard directly from him again.
It was much later that I learned of David’s dementia issues. When I learned of the facility where he was living, I sent him a letter but I don’t have any idea if he was able to comprehend it or not. I tried to find him when we visited NYC a short few years before he died but we were not successful. He had been moved from that facility to a different one and the staff would not release any information to me about his new location. The only question they would answer was when I asked if he was still alive, they said yes. For all the good that did me, because I was never able to find him. I do know now that he had been moved to a place New Jersey, which was the location of his death–sadly, something I learned about much after the fact. At least I know I tried, but it would have been nice to see him one more time.
On a side note, my oldest brother, Mark, was born on November 28, 1949. He died of cancer in 2000. His birthday often fell on Thanksgiving Day.
One of my favorites pictures of Mark as a baby was taken at Thanksgiving, in 1950, when he was one year old. They gave him a turkey leg to chomp on.
Another picture taken on Thanksgiving in 1950 is multi-generational. Mark is sitting with Grandma (Henrich) James, she is Gra Gra’s step-mom. Looking at the picture, sitting on the left end is our maternal grandmother, Gra Gra–Bertha L. (James) Watts. On the right end is paternal grandmother, Grammy–Alice (Holden) Lindall. Our mom, Marian, is sitting in the back.
To learn more about the Henrich family connection, please see post: What’s in a Name, Lena Henrich?
To learn more about Gra Gra, please see post: Intro to Gra Gra & Volunteering at Kent Hospital
I am, indeed, thankful for the memories!!
Until next time…