Family, friends at center of Thanksgiving

By: Ken Weingartner, Frank C. D’Amico, Mark Moffa
   The stories surrounding the origins of Thanksgiving are many, and open to interpretation.
   But in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is now regarded as the first Thanksgiving.
   The meal didn’t include many staples associated with today’s fare, such as sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. The only items certainly on the menu were venison and wild fowl, according to Kathleen Curtin, food historian at Plimoth Plantation.
   Regardless of the origins of the holiday, and the menu for the first feast, stories and memories surrounding family gatherings are central to the season. Each year, The Messenger-Press asks members of its communities to share their own tales and recollections. What follows is their stories.?
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   For Washington Township Clerk Bernadette DuBuss, this year’s Thanksgiving will involve cooking – again.
   "I started cooking family meals when I was 10 years old," she said.
   Her grandmother, who used to do all of the cooking, died when Ms. DuBuss when 10 years old. Her mother, who worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, didn’t know how to cook.
   So Ms. DuBuss took on the responsibility.
   "I’ve had it ever since," she said. "I keep waiting to be invited to my children’s homes."
   But that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, her three children and five grandchildren troop to her Manalapan home every year for the big meal.
   Her three siblings do their own thing now because they each have their own grandchildren. But once, 10 years ago, the whole family – about 70 people – got together at a hotel on Staten Island.
   "We don’t have the whole clan together anymore," she said. "We’d need a bus. When we all lived in Brooklyn it was easier."
   Those family members not present at the DuBuss household, however, will definitely be on the minds of everyone in attendance.?
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   Boris Vujovich is a native of Montenegro, Yugoslavia, where Thanksgiving Day is a foreign concept. But it didn’t take long for him to embrace the holiday after moving to the U.S. in 1973.
   "I celebrated the first one right here with my family," said Mr. Vujovich, the owner of Star art gallery on Church Street in Allentown. "It was easy to learn. I remember asking a lot of questions. I think it’s a great thing, very neat. I find it very interesting to see different customs. And the dinner is always good."
   Mr. Vujovich has two brothers and a sister who traveled to the U.S. prior to his arrival. He spends Thanksgiving Day with them and their families, consuming the traditional turkey dinner. However, the appetizers – including a variety of cheeses – usually have a European flavor, he said.
   "I feel like I am home here," Mr. Vujovich said about living in the U.S. "I can’t wait for Thanksgiving. I love to see everyone.
   "And it’s a free meal," he added, laughing. "Leftovers, too. I don’t think I’ll be able to walk."?
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   This year, Millstone Township Committeeman Charles Abate is spending Thanksgiving Day at his daughter Michele’s house in Barnegat. Mr. Abate and his wife, Pauline, will visit with their daughter and son, Charles Jr.
   Along with traditional Thanksgiving fare of turkey and stuffing, Mr. Abate’s family mixes in Italian dishes.
   "We always have lasagna, antipasto and anchovies," he said.
   Mr. Abate said the family will catch plenty of another Thanksgiving tradition – professional football.
   "We pretty much eat all day, get stuffed and then watch football on television," he said.?
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   Because Paul Harren’s four children live in different parts of the country, he and his wife travel for Thanksgiving.
   Mr. Harren, the superintendent of the Washington Township school district, travels to the home of his oldest son, Paul, in Mystic, Conn., every Thanksgiving.
   "It’s just a beautiful town and perfect for Thanksgiving," Mr. Harren said of the town on the Long Island Sound.
   Each year, the Harrens bring some kind of dish for the festivities.
   "It all depends on what my son wants," Mr. Harren said.?
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   For the last 15 years, Gary Machiz and his family have enjoyed Thanksgiving Day at an unusual time – the Saturday after the traditional holiday.
   Actually, the Machiz family celebrates Thanksgiving twice. The first time, on Thanksgiving Day, is with the family of Mr. Machiz’s wife, Chris. The second time, two days later, is with Mr. Machiz’s family.
   "In-laws get first dibs on the real Thanksgiving Day," said Mr. Machiz, a Standardbred racehorse trainer who lives in Millstone. "It’s a Machiz family declaration that Thanksgiving is celebrated two days after the holiday. It works out well."
   Mr. Machiz said the family enjoys traditional holiday fare on Thanksgiving Day, but has a varied menu for the second celebration. Last year, for example, it was veal chops.
   "We avoid the turkey," he said. "After a couple of years, we determined that by Saturday, everyone is sick of it. You have turkey on Thanksgiving, leftovers on Friday, and by Saturday nobody wants to see turkey."
   "It’s not the turkey that makes the holiday," he added. "It’s the family spirit."
   As a child, Thanksgiving didn’t mean much to Mr. Machiz, "other than overeating." But as the years pass, the holiday takes on greater significance.
   "It’s much more of a big deal," Mr. Machiz said. "As the years go by, you become more grateful that your family is intact. It’s another year your family has been untouched by things like illness or accidents. You become more and more appreciative that your family is together."?
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   Donna Ryba, owner of Heavenly Sweets on Church Street in Allentown, remembers large gatherings for Thanksgiving Day. As a child, 50 to 60 people would celebrate the holiday at her grandmother’s row house in Trenton.
   "She’d have flowers all over the house, and it would be decorated," Ms. Ryba said. "The women would be in the kitchen, and the men would go out on the porch or out back to discuss politics, or whatever men discuss. It was nice.
   "We love Thanksgiving. We always knew the family would be together. We still do it today."
   Thanksgiving Day doesn’t always run smoothly, however. One year, Ms. Ryba’s sister wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner at her new house in Mays Landing. There was one problem.
   "She didn’t realize the electric stove hadn’t been hooked up yet," Ms. Ryba said. "There were 40 of us there, and we’re all waiting for the food to get done. Of course, it didn’t. We ended up cooking on the grill outside. We had hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, whatever we could find to put on the grill. But it went pretty well."
   The menu really doesn’t matter for a successful Thanksgiving dinner.
   "As long as you’ve got your friends and your family there, you’ve got a good day," Ms. Ryba said.?
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   Patricia Coffey, a longtime member of the Millstone Board of Education, said her large family gathers at her house every Thanksgiving Day.
   "I have five siblings, and my husband has six," Ms. Coffey said. "With extended family, we usually have between 28 and 30 people for dinner."
   Ms. Coffey said she and her four daughters create the cuisine together.
   Much of the menu comes from recipes Ms. Coffey learned from her mother-in-law.
   "I’ve known her since I was 14," Ms. Coffey said.
   Some of the recipes include apple raisin stuffing and pumpkin cranberry bread.
   Dessert time at the Coffey residence usually draws an extra 10 people, in addition to those who were able to attend the main course.
   "People have other obligations during the day, but many relatives show up in time for dessert, which we bake ourselves," she said.?
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   Washington Township Committeeman Jack Mozloom has fond and loving memories of the holidays with his family.
   "We always spend the holidays with my aunt in Edison," he said. "We still have the tradition, and it’s the best thing about the holidays."
   Thoughts of sledding and touch football games in the snow bring a smile to Mr. Mozloom’s face as he anticipates seeing his brother, who usually comes home from Florida for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
   "Our waistlines are getting bigger – now we watch football games, but it’s a lot of fun," he said.
   This year, Mr. Mozloom might have to wait until Christmas to see his brother, who is a television producer in Florida and may be unable to make the trip because of the hourly developments in the presidential election.
   Mr. Mozloom remembered that as a child, he looked forward to the traditional Italian Christmas Eve fish dinner and staying up at night listening to the radio for Santa Claus sightings.
   "They’d have some F-15 fighter pilot calling in," he said. "I used to get excited – that was wonderful!
   "The best Christmas present I ever got was a dog, Mugsy," he added. "He was special."
   Mr. Mozloom recalled the dog who loved kids and was equally adored by neighborhood children.
   Mugsy, a mutt, died a couple months ago. Mr. Mozloom, who used to hang a stocking for the dog every Christmas – Santa would provide a nice bone for Mugsy – will be without his best friend for the first time this holiday season.
   And for Mr. Mozloom, this Christmas will bring bittersweet memories of yet another loved one who has passed away.
   His mother died of cancer shortly after Christmas two years ago.
   "If there’s ever a poignant Christmas moment it was really that year that she died," he said. "To know that she was going to die but to see her utterly happy that she could be with her family for Christmas was the most beautiful Christmas tale you could imagine.
   "It’s romantic to think that she allowed herself to pass on after that," he added, attempting to hold back his emotion. "She’ll be in our thoughts."