Wayne County Wanderings: Expressing gratitude as we enter the holiday season

·6 min read

It's Thursday night and I'm collapsed on my couch, barely conscious and on the verge of a food coma.

Teri and I have just returned from the second of what will be three Thanksgiving dinners, this one courtesy of my brother Sean. We're watching our third football game of the day, but struggling a bit to show any enthusiasm.

My phone has been buzzing for a solid hour as friends check in from every corner of the globe.

Each one of these messages conjures a vivid memory of holidays past ... from Thanksgiving plays in primary school, to junior high chorus and band concerts, to my first-ever holiday dinner away from home.

While all of these memories hold a special place in my heart, one in particular stands out and will always be my favorite Thanksgiving story.

This tale dates back more than four decades and is set right here in Honesdale...

The Blizzard

It was 1971 and I was all of five-years-old. School was out and we were home counting down the hours until Thanksgiving.

Yep. 1971. Let's time travel back to that idyllic era for a moment, shall we?

In 1971, a new house cost about $25,000 and the average income of an American worker was just under $11,000.

Forty cents would get you a gallon of gas, which was good news because you could fill up your brand new Dodge Charger, sticker priced to sell at $3,579.

Thanksgiving dinner was an economic affair as turkey weighed in at 43 cents per pound and 97 cents would buy you 10 pounds of Idaho potatoes.

Looking ahead to Christmas time, there were plenty of affordable presents for good boys and girls.

My brothers and I were probably fighting over the Sears Catalogue, which featured every toy imaginable, from Malibu Barbie ($1.94) and Etch-A-Sketch ($2.83) to Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots ($8.99) and the strangely compelling NFL Electric Football Game ($9.99).

It was a simpler time, at least it seems that way gazing back across the decades from my vantage point as a grandfather!

Anyway, back to our story...

As I recall, the snow began falling late the night before. I awoke the next morning to a world transformed. Parkway Drive was blanketed in white with nary a plow in sight.

It was, to coin a phrase, a “Winter Wonderland.”

According to news reports at the time, this particular storm was a doozy. It came roaring up the coast, intensifying as it advanced.

Cities in the tri-state area began reporting measurable snow late on November 24 and continued unabated well into Thanksgiving Day. By the time it was finally over, storm totals were breaking records across New York and PA.

Albany absorbed 22.5 inches. More than 18 inches fell in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area, while towns across Wayne County checked in with anywhere from 20-30 inches.

Major snowfall is rare in November, so this blizzard caught just about everyone by surprise … my parents included.

In fact, as the morning wore on and we all started digging out, Thanksgiving plans began to change.

My mom had been on the phone with several members of our “extended family” and they were stranded. My poor Dad, who'd just come in from shoveling out the driveway, was huddled by the fireplace trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible because he knew what was coming.

“David?” Mom asked plaintively. “Could you please go and get them?”

Of course he would because that's the kind of man he'd always been. So he sighed, took a big gulp of his tea and began putting back on all the layers of clothes he'd peeled off just minutes ago.

It was adventure time and Dad was even going to let my brother and I tag along.

Our mission? Plow our way off Parkway Drive, down Elm Place, along North Main Street and into the heart of Honesdale to rescue our friends.

Uncle Joe

Now, I don't remember all the folks who piled into the blue Dodge Impala that day, but one in particular stands out.

Every family has a “crazy” uncle or aunt, the one who's the life of every Christmas party or summer barbecue.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, that role was played in the Edwards Clan by the inestimable Joe Lyons

“Uncle Joe” was one of my very favorite people. He may not have had children of his own, but he had an uncanny way with kids.

He wasn't a blood relative and so not really an uncle. But, he was my brother's godfather and a constant happy presence throughout my childhood.

Joe taught with my Mom and Dad in the English Department at Honesdale High School. He was an intense guy with a wonderful sense of humor and a contagious laugh.

Uncle Joe injected life into every room he entered. And, he always brought gifts: the mysterious brown paper bag for the adults and penny candy for the kids.

When we were little, he gave us horsey rides on his back. He also did magic tricks guaranteed to delight his young audience, everything from card tricks to making a quarter appear from behind your ear.

Uncle Joe lived in a meticulously kept apartment above Abraham's on Main Street across from the Wayne Hotel.

He came bounding down the stairs, a big goofy grin on his face, glasses fogged over and grey hair flying in all directions.

Perhaps predictably, we got stuck in the snow right there. Fortunately, though, a good samaritan helped push us out and we eventually made it back to Parkway Drive in one piece.

It was a grand day. Hugs were exchanged, turkey was carved, wine was imbibed and pumpkin pie devoured.

Our little dining room table could barely contain this jovial group. But, when it was all over, we knew this had been a special, unforgettable holiday.

Genuinely Thankful

As time passed, the Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1971 became a staple story in Edwards Family Lore.

It's one of those perfect tales, a story that gets better with each re-telling.

Sitting here on our couch at the Charles Street Manor, I can't help but smile at the memory. Uncle Joe and all the “extended” family members gathered around that dining room table in 1971 are long gone.

And, while that's a sad thought, I take comfort in the fact that they will always live on in my heart.

Thanksgiving is about family. It's about creating new memories and not letting the old ones fade.

I'm painfully aware that one day in the not too distant future, I'll become a memory as well.

Hopefully, my own descendants will gather around a table and tell tall tales of “crazy old grandpa Kevin.”

I hope they'll smile and remember me with love … just as I remember all those who came before me … from 1971 and beyond.

This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Wayne County Wanderings Kevin Edwards gratitude in the holiday season

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