Berwyn: Time to count your blessings
November 25, 2009
Seeing all the visitors arriving in Summit County for the holiday weekend once again reminded me that Thanksgiving was often the start of the ski season for my family when I was growing up in Germany. Some years, I’d get out of school half a day early, just so we could beat the traffic and to be well-rested for an early start on the slopes the next day. Standing on the slushy sidewalk under steely late-November skies, I’d watch for our 1960 Chevy Impala to roll up, with a trunk so big that all our gear – including 210-centimeter boards – fit inside, no ski rack needed.
Often, we’d head to Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, where the U.S. Army operated several hotels for military personnel. Some years it snowed big-time, and we’d revel in powder up on the Zugspitzplatt, a glacial plateau on the backside of Germany’s highest peak. The ride up, on a steep cog-railway that tunneled for miles through the mountain, was nearly as exciting as the skiing. If there was enough snow at lower elevations, we’d end the day with a run back down to town from the Tunnelfenster, a stop midway along the route that involved walking from the train through a long dark tunnel toward the snow-covered pines visible at the opening.
Other years, early season snow was sparse. Once, we skipped skiing altogether and visited nearby sights. On Thanksgiving day, we hiked up to a frosted meadow, where my dad heated up a vat of goulash on a Sterno stove for a mid-day snack. As we ate, we watched a white-furred mink pop in and out of some old irrigation pipes laying beside a hay shack on the mountainside.
Snow or no snow, we were always thankful we had escaped grimy, gray Frankfurt for a few days to play together in the mountains. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was to one of the last Thanksgivings we all celebrated together for more than 15 years.
A few years later, my family was spread across two continents, separated by the Atlantic Ocean. One sibling lived in Southern California. I was based near San Francisco, while my parents and my youngest brother remained in Germany. I made friends, found new traditions and things to be thankful for, including fresh-caught Pacific Salmon and giant pumpkins from the fields around Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.
When I ran a youth hostel near Mammoth Lakes in the 1980s , I hosted big groups of kids for Thanksgiving. One year, it was a Boys Club group from San Diego, including some Vietnamese orphans new to the U.S. who had never seen snow and were just learning about American-style Thanksgiving. I tried to recreate some of my Mom’s recipes for the feast, somewhat of a mish-mash between traditional American holiday items and Euro-touches like stewed red cabbage.
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Regardless of where I was and what I was cooking, I’d think back to those family ski trips and call everyone I could reach. More often than not, the conversation would begin something like this, “Remember that time when it was so cold our turkey sandwiches froze solid on the chairlift?”
I can appreciate all the families flocking to Summit County for this holiday because it was here that my family began to re-group after decades of distance. I think it was back in 1995 or 1996 that all five of sat together for the first time, eyeing that big bird on the table, trying to decide who gets the drumsticks. For a few years, my parents’ house in Summit Cove became the hub of our family wheel.
It was a priceless opportunity to re-connect. Even though my folks have since moved away, I’ll cherish those years as much as I treasure the memory of those ski trips in Germany, and maybe even more, since the Summit County holidays included the next generation of our family.
So happy Thanksgiving to locals and tourists alike. It may not be the snowiest ski weekend of the season, but you can still appreciate the time you spend with your family and friends. It’s the best holiday tradition of all.
Bob Berwyn has been reporting from Summit County since 1996 and always gives away the drumstick.