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At least we think so now…

There have been many memorable Thanksgivings in The Legal Genealogist‘s life.

Thanksgivings spent in Virginia, gathered with my mother, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins by the dozens, all together at a rented hall — because no house was big enough for us all — in a celebration presided over by my grandmother, my mother’s mother.

Thanksgivings spent at my home, gathered with my sister’s family, where I was allowed to preside, in a tradition that included a day-after trip to New York and a Broadway play.

But none quite as memorable as the Thanksgiving in the home I grew up in, in New Jersey, presided over by my older sister, Diana.

She was, at the time, not quite 12 years old.

I’ve told the story of this particular Thanksgiving before,1 and have mentioned — in passing — the reason why a youngster not quite 12 years old was presiding over that Thanksgiving.

It’s because my parents were engaged in the process of giving us a Thanksgiving gift.

Oh, not one we thought was a gift at the time. I mean, after all, at the time all four of us at that particular Thanksgiving dinner already had sisters, and three of us already had a brother.

And with four of us at that dinner ranging in age from four to not-quite-12, there were already quite enough children there thankyouverymuch, and none of us felt that it was particularly necessary to add to our numbers.

Of course, nobody asked us. Or, if they did, nobody listened to us.

Because what my parents were focused on that Thanksgiving day so long ago — exactly 58 years ago today, as a matter of fact — was producing what I’m quite sure they thought of as our Thanksgiving gift.

And what we thought of as a major distraction from the main event, the feast — not to mention our lives as a whole.

They were at the hospital producing a fifth child.

This particular distraction was supposed to be named Peggy. The name the child was actually given was Frederick,2 in part to honor the cousin who walked my mother down the aisle at her wedding to my father.3

Brother Fred

Apparently there was something about five little heathens in the house that was one too many for my German Lutheran father to handle. On one day, the population of a local Lutheran church swelled considerably when all five of us were baptized in a single day.4

That, we figure, was probably one of the last times this kid was called Frederick. The rest of the time it was more commonly Freddy, Fritz, Fred and even, on more than one occasion, “why you little br—…”.

He earned that last one by:

• Trying to burn the house down when he was about eight years old (what is it about kids and setting their rooms on fire anyway?);

• Writing with crayon all over one of the bedroom walls of my grandmother’s Virginia home — and completely escaping punishment since what he’d written, with a grandmother called by one and all Mama Clay, was: “I love you, Mama Clay!”;

• Diving from the top of a jungle gym to the ground in the backyard, causing the first of his compound fractures of an arm;

• Diving from the back of a horse to the ground after my folks moved to Texas, causing the second of his compound fractures of — if memory serves me correctly — the same arm;

• Not bothering to mention that a sore on his arm seemed to be infected until he had to be hospitalized with a staph infection that almost cost him an arm (and, yeah, actually, if memory serves me correctly, that was the same arm too).

Yep, he was a handful all right, and there were assuredly times when you wouldn’t have found a one of us from that particular Thanksgiving dinner who’d have called him a gift.

But he has kind of gone on to redeem himself.

He gave a lifetime of service to the United States, joining the U.S. Army at age 17 and retiring as a First Sergeant. He gave my mother her first grandchild, who in turn produced the first great grandchild. He was there, when some of us couldn’t be, when our mother drew her last breath. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s frustrating on occasion — which allows me to flatter myself by thinking of him as, perhaps, most like me.

So we’ll gather this evening to give birthday gifts to this Thanksgiving distraction who became our Thanksgiving gift.

Happy birthday, Fred… you little br— …


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Memories of Thanksgiving Past,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Nov 2013 ( : accessed 24 Nov 2018).
  2. The name was then reserved for the next distraction — who was named Warren — and then for the next and last distraction, who was named Bill.
  3. See ibid., “Missing cousin Fred,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 May 2018.
  4. It cracked me up completely to see that that event actually made the newspapers in my home town… and no, I’m not going to cite that source to protect the innocent. That poor congregation…
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