Thursday, November 21, 2013

WCP Staff Members Share Their Favorite Thanksgiving Memories

by Beth Huisking, General Manager and Contributors

Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell

Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is just a week away!  As one of the few holidays celebrated by the majority of Americans, it has a unique way of uniting us all.  But while we all celebrate the same day we might not all celebrate in the same way.  Each of us has our own little traditions that set our celebration apart and help to make the day memorable.  And so this month, the Playhouse staff have agreed to share their Thanksgiving memories and some of the traditions that help them celebrate this festive day. 

Michael Ross, Managing Director

In November of 1983 I was living in Houston, Texas where I was working in the box office at the Alley Theatre. I had moved there from Wisconsin after my mother died. She had passed away at an early age after a long battle with breast cancer. I and my 3 brothers were at her side the night she died. The morning after the funeral I drove 24 hours straight to Houston to start my professional theater career.

I was 23 years old and for the first time I was away from my family – or what was left of it – for Thanksgiving. I found fantastic, lifelong friendships among the group of people I was working with at the Alley, including Ruthie Rodriquez, a Houston native who quickly became my roommate. Life with Ruthie was often like an episode of the I Love Lucy show. She always had some scheme that she’d talk me into participating in – which would, of course, always end up not as she had planned - leaving us having to get ourselves out of some crazy situation - often while screaming with laughter.

Like Lucy Ricardo, Ruthie loved celebrities and always had a scheme to somehow meet them. That year, a new movie with Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger – based on a book neither of us had read – was filming in our neighborhood. So Ruthie decided she was going to meet and spend time with Shirley and Debra – which she miraculously ended up doing – coming back to our place every evening with photos of she and Debra having lunch, she and Shirley talking. She paid no attention to what the movie was actually about. She claimed it was a comedy and that it would be great fun seeing it the first day it opened in Houston – on Thanksgiving day. So that’s what we decided to do. Since most of our friends were going back to wherever they were from for Thanksgiving, and Ruthie’s family wasn’t getting together, the two of us decided to spend Thanksgiving together and see this new movie. The day itself ended up being a miserable day – cold and rainy – and we had trouble finding a restaurant for a Thanksgiving dinner that we could afford. We ended up at a diner that had run out of turkey by the time we got there. It was all rather depressing. But we forged on and headed out to see the fun new “comedy” Terms of Endearment. The start of the movie was kind of fun and kind of interesting. But then. But then Debra Winger’s character - a young mother of 3 boys - is diagnosed with breast cancer – and it’s not a good diagnosis – and this movie is not the “comedy” I was led to believe it was. Sitting next to Ruthie in this dark theater I started to think that this story was an awfully familiar one. I couldn’t believe it. I started to hold back my tears, hoping that Ruthie wouldn’t acknowledged what was going on or I would lose it. But she, of course, couldn’t help herself. In the dark she placed a comforting hand on my leg. And I then lost it. And then she lost it. Both of us crying our guts out, sobbing, wailing - right through to the end of the movie. It was all so crazy, so absurd that our tears quickly turned into uncontrollable laughter. By the time we were in the lobby we couldn’t stop laughing. We couldn’t do anything but laugh at that point. Healing, comforting laughter. Probably the best medicine I could have ever hoped for on this particular Thanksgiving. It made me forever thankful for the gift of laughter, and for the gift of great friendship.

Mark Lamos, Artistic Director

My most memorable Thanksgiving occurred the day my now husband Jerry and I woke up for the first time in our house in the little town of Sherman, in the Litchfield Hills. The movers had deposited everything there the day before, and though the house was a mess and a tumble, Thanksgiving morning began for us with gazing in absolute wonder out of the bedroom windows at huge leafless maples and bluer than blue sky. The quiet was country-deep and exactly what we had hoped for. We felt incredibly lucky.

Our friends Michael and Andrea had composed a 'Welcome to Sherman' cantata, which played to our delight and laughter on the answering machine as we made coffee.

We had invited our best friends, Michael and Larry, for Thanksgiving dinner, ordered a cooked turkey from the local market. The whole house was a sea of packing paper and boxes. I remember taking some out to the garage as a herd of deer galloped across our meadow. I'd never seen anything more beautiful than that.

While we got ready, a flock of wild turkeys paraded across the lawn, spared from a hunter's dining table.

By the end of the day Larry had rearranged the living room furniture, and it has remained that way to this day. Though he died after a long illness, his partner Michael still comes, along with three other close friends-- all of whom bring enough food for a regiment. This is our extended family. It's hard for me to think about being anywhere else -- or with anyone else-- for Thanksgiving.

Nikki Rowell, Sales Marketing Manager

A few years back, my cousins and I decided to have an on-going Thanksgiving tradition where we pick a theme or costume and we all have to dress up accordingly. Last year was 1980s Thanksgiving, complete with rocker wigs, tube socks, and crimped ponytails. The year before was moustache Thanksgiving. We’ve had several others including ugly sweaters, color themes where we all wear one color and my favorite which was Pirate Thanksgiving. That was a lot of fun! Though I wouldn’t recommend eating mashed potatoes with a hook.

Sarah Stevens, Business Associate

If it snows on Thanksgiving, my mom makes us all eat outside in the snow. Not even kidding. It started when a British friend of my mom’s was joining us for the holiday, his first Thanksgiving experience. It happened to snow that day and my mom decided to make us all go outside. I think the British friend thought it was a bit crazy, or maybe he thought this is how Thanksgiving is supposed to be celebrated.

Kelly McInnis, Box Office Manager

We always have Thanksgiving “Part 2” the day after. Our family friends host lots of people (every year it seems to grow) – most of whom bring their unwanted leftovers. Inspired by a restaurant in their hometown, they create open-faced sandwiches, piled high with all the traditional Thanksgiving carb-laden goodness, topped with a slice of cheese, and baked until perfect. Spending time with family and friends? Taking care of those pesky leftovers in just one day? Check and check. Good food and good times - sounds like a perfect night to me!

And as you look forward to celebrating with your friends and family, we invite you to share your traditions and memories with your Playhouse family. Please email us at enews@westportplayhouse.org and we will post them on our website along with this article. Have a Happy Thanksgiving – however you celebrate!   


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