Thanksgiving here already? Let’s turn back the clock and slow it down a bit

One cartoonist's vision of a family Thanksgiving is depicted in this sketch, which appeared in the Nashua Telegraph the day before Thanksgiving 1897.

Seriously? Thanksgiving is really less than a week away? Talk about sneaking up on us.

Or is it just me once again forgetting to watch my back?

Well, the upside, I suppose, is an early Thanksgiving always means a late Christmas, as the late linguist Yogi Berra might say.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, how about Patrick and Bridget Dolan, the longtime Nashua couple for whom Thanksgiving Day was an extra-special holiday for many, many years.

How many years? How about 60? Indeed, for the Dolans, each Thanksgiving meant another wedding anniversary, and they kept adding up, past their silver 25th, up to and beyond their golden 50th and on to their 60th, which they celebrated on Thanksgiving Day 1905.

While staying married, and quite frankly, staying alive long enough to see a 60th wedding anniversary is pretty common these days, safe to say it was a rare feat indeed back in the Dolans’ era.

I came across Pat and Bridget Dolan’s accomplishment while perusing old Telegraphs to see what kinds of things our ancestral Nashuans did to observe Thanksgiving. I learned they pretty much did what we do today – go visiting, eat turkey, enjoy a few celebratory spirits, perhaps take in a church service – but minus TV football, retailers who actually open on the holiday and scrolling our smartphones for Black Friday specials.

The Dolans, described as among Nashua’s eldest Irish-Americans, married in 1845 in Ireland, then lived various places before coming to Nashua a decade or so later.

How long ago was this? Well, upon arriving in Nashua, the Dolans built the “first house upon Chandler Hill,” and farmed a few adjoining acres. Patrick Dolan died in 1907 at age 86; I couldn’t find an obituary for his wife, who was about three years younger.

What else were Nashuans of previous generations doing for Thanksgiving?

Well, 1895, 11 tramps – today we call them homeless folks – spent Thanksgiving at the police station. No word if they were served turkey dinners.

Also in 1895, Dr. and Mrs. C. F. Nutter of Nashua spent the holiday at Dr. Nutter’s old home in Rochester – but it doesn’t say how welcoming the current occupants were.

Thanksgiving 1940, meanwhile, came awful close to turning tragic over in Hudson, when a young brother and sister, Henry and Anita Naro, were struck by a car while sledding on new fallen snow. They’d slid down Grand Avenue and were crossing Webster Street when they were hit, but fortunately they were only “shaken up,” the Telegraph reported.

Another 1940 Thanksgiving story broke the news that Miles Standish was alive and well and living in Plymouth – New Hampshire, that is.

Interviewed, the ’40 version, whose name the Telegraph spelled “Miles” rather than “Myles,” revealed he was an 11th generation descendant of the historically-famous military cop the Pilgrims hired to protect them in the new world.

The Great Depression was in full swing as Thanksgiving 1933 arrived, promping a Telegraph editorialist to urge folks to look on the bright side and celebrate a day whose “essence is its sentiment for gratitude and joy.”

Don’t let the precarious economy and what was for many constant anxiety over putting food on the table make this Thanksgiving “a day of gloom and dark forebodings,” the writer lectured his readers, adding that “we do not choose to see that dark side.”

One can appreciate the power of positive thinking, but the writer doesn’t seem like someone who knew what it was like to stand in a soup line or live in a Hooverville.

On a somewhat brighter, if a little tipsy, note, Nashua, state and federal law enforcement officers sent out warnings in the days leading up to Thanksgiving 1925, letting those who “are planning on a generous amount of liquor to supply part of their holiday program” know they were watching.

Those prone to imbibing – remember, this was during Prohibition – “will find it doubly difficult to find a choice assortment of their favorite brands” of booze, police promised, vowing also to keep a close eye on “the highways and byways in and out of town.”

On the subject of getting tipsy, the Telegraph, on a page devoted to Thanksgiving-related reader submissions in 1909, printed the recollections of an “old timer” about “an old-time Thanksgiving custom which is happily now obsolete.”

It seems there was at one time a rural holiday custom called “A Turkey Drunk,” in which farmers and their families, believing they were being kind to the turkey they were about to behead, de-feather, stuff, cook and eat by – yes – getting it drunk just ahead of its trip to the chopping block.

The practice, the “old timer” wrote, “made the turkey’s last moments on earth happy” and its impending demise “of unconcern to the bird.”

Brandy was the cocktail of choice – it was “believed to give the meat a flavor that no bird that died sober could ever have.”

Witnesses were known to get the biggest kick out of watching the besotted bird “stagger around the poultry yard … strutting about” and struggling to “maintain its dignity in front of ‘his hens,'” and when he “invariably fell, (the turkey) created surprise and disgust among his harem.”

The “old timer” does admit at the end that it’s just as well the custom had fallen out of favor and by then largely extinct.

Back in not-so-rural Nashua, meanwhile, the vast majority of us prefer to forego the more squeamish phases of turkey-prep and harvest our nicely wrapped, fresh or frozen birds from our favorite supermarket.

If you were around in 1911, you might have gone to the pre-holiday turkey auction at McQuesten’s Market, or perhaps checked out the two-hour poultry sale at Jeannotte’s Market on Thanksgiving eve.

If you’d rather leave the cooking to others, you could have gone to Hadley’s, at 197 Main St., for roast turkey in oyster sauce with all the fixings including dessert, for a grand total of 50 cents.

Old favorite The Modern, in 1948, offered roast turkey, stuffing potatoes, and so forth, including dessert, for $1.50. The same dinner was a quarter more at Henry’s Diner, while the Laton House, back in the day, got $2 for its Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, as we come up on Thanksgiving 2018, here’s wishing everyone a happy, healthful and hearty holiday.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, or@Telegraph_DeanS.