What follows is a true story. It is a tale of a time in the lives of a few kids, most of us 19 years old, a few older, but not many. I think the statute of limitations has run out on this little escapade as well. In any event, there never was any evidence of a crime, for this was just a gastronomical misdemeanor that was never reported by anyone.
Over the years, my Thanksgivings have been warm times that I’ve enjoyed with family, and friends but in 1959, when I joined the Army, I would begin missing Thanksgiving at home for a time.
The first Thanksgiving I missed in Carrington was in 1959. The weekend before Thanksgiving that year, I was on KP duty at the mess hall at Fort Devens, MA where we were getting our training.
It was a Saturday, and as the end of the day was approaching, I noticed a chance to change the character of the upcoming holiday.
In all fairness to the Army, they do go all out for Thanksgiving for their GIs, but in spite of that we had an idea to put our own stamp on this holiday.
It was, for most of us, our first Thanksgiving away from home, and for most of us it was the beginning of learning to change how we celebrate holidays which were family centered events, to celebrating holidays with strangers in strange new places.
After all, the Army was our home now, at least that is what were told in basic training, and while I had no idea of how to reconcile those impossibly, contradictory tenets I was about to try. On with the plan.
One of our number was married and lived off post, and I asked him what his plans were for the holiday, and he told me he and his wife were just going to hang out at their apartment. So then, as I was in the process of cleaning up and looking about the mess hall, I noticed a large number of chickens, and a supply of other food that could all go into the making of a Thanksgiving dinner.
Having seen that, I hatched a plan to steal a number of said chickens, along with a sheet pan of brownies, needed for desert, and some other food stuffs like potatoes, corn, etc., to help make our feast off post at our friends small apartment more special. I ran the plan by our off-post friend, and he told me he was on board. The plan was a go.
While most people associate turkey with this holiday, we thought purloined chicken and fixings would be a fine substitute.
I found a place outside of the mess hall where I could stash the food we were going to use for our own holiday meal.
I began to systematically wrap chickens and along with the other items, I put them out the back door of the mess hall where they couldn’t be seen, and when we finished our KP shift for the night, and under the cover of darkness, we loaded everything, including the big sheet pan of brownies, into the car of our friend.
As he drove away we walked back to our barracks in the dark of that November evening, secure in the knowledge we were learning how to celebrate this new reality of the holiday in a strange new place with strangers who were becoming friends. And we all had smiles on our faces as we walked, even knowing that had we been caught, our lives would have been changed, and not for the better.
That Thanksgiving Day of 1959, along with a proper amount of wine, beer, and spirits we all enjoyed a meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, salad and brownies for desert, made even more delicious by our having pulled off the food theft that would become known, at least to us, as the “Great Thanksgiving Day Heist.” We laughed and toasted each other for a great holiday feast.
Even at 19-20 years of age, we were showing signs of being able to improvise, something that in the military is valued, or so we thought.
It was, as I reflect, a fine Thanksgiving.
I spent the following two Thanksgivings in Germany but by then the strangers had become close friends, became like family and many of them remain so to this day. We have lost several of our number, but each time this holiday rolls around, I think of them and the times we had, and I remain thankful that I have these memories.