Wednesday, November 26, 2008

what is it like to spend thanksgiving in napa?

if you grew up here...or live here is probably a lot like thanksgiving anywhere in america. a wonderful day spent with family and friends eating amazing food. hopefully it is a day to give thanks for all that we have...and to celebrate everyone we love...

today's post by guest blogger, lisa adams walter, is her beautiful story of growing up in napa while her father was serving in the marines during the vietnam war....and of thanksgiving traditions formed during that time...and...happily...after he returned home. since i live in napa too, i thoroughly enjoyed imagining lisa's family shopping at all the places i know and love...brown's valley market...milk and butter from stornetta's dairy...and breakfast at the buttercream is a napa tradition...

lisa is a new twitter friend of mine...and i am enjoying getting to know her through her tweets...and learning about her pr/marketing firm adams walter through her website...lisa tells me she is in the process of starting a blog...i will let you know when it is up...until then, you can enjoy her story as part of the napa farmhouse 1885™ thanksgiving memories series....

Thanksgiving in Napa, Then and Now
By Lisa Adams Walter
twitter @LisaAdamsWalter

"The first Thanksgiving I can remember was in Napa. Back then, in the last year of the ‘60s, I was barely five years old and my dad was serving a tour of duty in Viet Nam. The holidays that year were less than perfect with a sense of uncertainty while Daddy was away. It wasn’t the same. That wasn’t to say that our family life was “perfect” by any stretch of the imagination (whose is?), but it wasn’t “normal” that shortly after the joy of the first man walking on the moon, my mom, baby sister and I traveled down to Oceanside, California to send my dad off to Viet Nam.

We spent his “going away” weekend on the beach, hanging out in what I can only barely remember as a ‘50s era coastal strip motel that had some sort of kitchenette. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember my baby sister Laura (just two years old) in her little navy blue with pink trim one-piece bathing suit sporting the worst sunburn of her life! Then we took him to wherever you take troops to depart into the unknown. He, once a Marine always a Marine, rather than handsome in his dress blues was dressed in full combat gear. Off he went. More than 30 years later, I still have a small collection of letters handwritten by my dad sent to me from that faraway place: Nam.

We drove back up to Napa (then filled with prune orchards, a few vineyards and lots of open space) to start the school year. My mom was a young teacher, I was just beginning Kindergarten.

My family has been in the Napa Valley since the 1930s, my mother born and raised in this simple place: Napa—it used to be a very small, intimate, working-class town. It was because of the uncertainty of the Viet Nam War that my mother (who is still wise to this day) decided (actually, I believe that with great conviction she demanded) that following military transfers to Maryland, Monterey and Okinawa, Japan that if her husband was heading off to war, she was heading home to Napa. My grandparents, a pastor and a teacher, were always waiting for us with open arms. They provided a solid foundation, and a soft place to land. Most of my Thanksgiving memories rest with them.
By this time, my grandparents had already been in Napa for more than three decades. Midwesterners of German descent, much of what we ate on holidays (and at every Sunday dinner) was homegrown, a gift from a parishioner, delivered from Stornetta’s Dairy or from Giovannoni’s Market. The bird was fresh, the mashed potatoes were hand-whipped with butter and fresh cream, we baked the pies from scratch and three generations of us would squeeze into the kitchen to each do our part. These traditions continue to this day.

It was always my job to set the table, make the gravy, bake pies and serve beverages. I can remember how the table looked, how my grandparent’s home smelled, and how we didn’t need anything more than each other for entertainment. Our traditional menu was always basically the same, but nothing was out of can or box or purchased prepared: anti-pasta selection, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, sweet yams, salad, cranberry sauce, cranberry salad, Dutch crunch rolls (okay, those came from Buttercream Bakery), pumpkin pie, apple pie and persimmon pudding. If I close my eyes right now, I swear that I am right back there in the middle of what is now a very old part of Napa. The “event” itself was the collaboration and creation of the meal, all of us sitting down, collectively giving thanks and celebrating.
We continued our tradition for decades. And in one fashion or another it continues to this day (the turkey now comes from Browns Valley Market run by Giovannonis, the rolls still come from Buttercream Bakery). My grandparents have passed on. My sister and her husband live in Napa and I now have a husband, in-laws, a career and a sparkling seven-year-old daughter. Today I live, work and am immersed in one of the most famous wine regions in the world. The wines we select for holidays are often some of the finest that we enjoy all year. I’ve even hosted a few Thanksgiving dinners of my own, I love to cook. But more than that, I love what it is that Thanksgiving stands for: Giving Thanks. It’s the food, wine and close personal definition of “family” that takes the celebration to the next level.

While my dad was in Viet Nam, we’d shop the base commissary at either Travis Air Force Base or Mare Island and then send care packages of home-baked cookies, Tang and Carnation Instant Breakfast mix. Nothing like the home-grown fare we enjoyed daily. But I guess that’s how it is when you’re fighting a war.

I don’t think that it was until I was in my ‘30s that I realized what it was that my parents went through with the (pre- and post-) Viet Nam experience that dramatically impacted our family. Without constant communication, and the technology that provides an instant window into the world of today, without email and telephone access… it was all a vast, unknown void. Every night on the evening news, the “news” from Viet Nam wasn’t good. Today, with our international conflicts one thing remains the same: the craziness and warped impact of war. I give thanks for the troops that bravely protect our country today. Bring them home.

After his tour of duty, my dad returned to the states. It was in the middle of the night one evening that we received an unexpected phone call. It’s a blurry memory, but I do remember being bundled up with my sister and then with my mom, we sped down to SFO in our Toyota Corolla to pick up my dad. Thank God he came home safe. Still, things were never quite the same after then. It was a rocky road for our family, but through it all we hung together. My parents continue to live in Napa after all of these years. This year in particular, perhaps because I feel that nationally our country is on the brink of incredible positive change, I am thankful that we persevered. And I am also grateful to, and proud of, my mom and dad that they were able to personally give SO much during such an unsettled time (1969).

This year I also hope and pray for peace for all of the families whose loved ones are serving out in the “unknown” on behalf of the United States. Let’s all, as a country, do all that we can, so that they can return to celebrate an endless number of memorable and peace-filled Thanksgiving holidays. And to my dad: Semper Fi!"

lisa..thank you so much for sharing your thanksgiving memories with us...i knew it was the perfect story to post on thanksgiving eve. if you are like me, you are busy working in your kitchen tonight...baking, cooking, cleaning and prepping for tomorrow...lisa ensures we take a minute to reflect on the true meaning of the day...happy thanksgiving everyone... and..yes..the thanksgiving memories series continues with additional stories throughout the holiday weekend...enjoy your day tomorrow...


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"

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Tiglizzyclone said...

I just recently found this blog. Hey! I live in Napa, and also grew up here. Interesting post, I enjoyed it.

Napa Farmhouse 1885 said...

hi tiglizzyclone,
thank you..and welcome...
how did you spend thanksgiving?

Anonymous said...

Lisa, thank you for sharing this wonderful story of Napa's early years. How I would have loved to see and experience Napa back then.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I grew up in Napa but am living the "corporate life" out in NYC right now. My parents actually flew out from Napa to visit for Thanksgiving, made me a little home sick.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting story! I enjoyed the comments about Marines and have this to add.

Below is a link to a Hollywood-style book trailer for "Once a Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander's Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery," by Nick Popaditch with Mike Steere (Savas Beatie, October 1, 2008).

Make sure you watch to the very end for a "special" photo message from "Gunny Pop" Nick. I know you will appreciate seeing him.

Nick "Gunny Pop" Popaditch is a former marine Gunnery Sergeant, a Silver Star winner, a 15-year veteran of the USMC, and was widely known around the world as "The Cigar Marine:" (Google it.). His tanks captured Firdos "Saddam" square in April 2003 and pulled down the hated statue. Nick was severely wounded one year later with an RPG to the head, which was captured live by a media news crew. He had to fight his way through an incredible odyssey of turmoil, heartbreak, and bureaucracy to recover everything he had lost. His website is

If you know anyone in the media who you think would be interested in interviewing "Gunny Pop," don't hesitate to call or email them and let them know.

We appreciate your support of Nick and his family in any way you are able. The success of this book will open doors for this blind warrior, and hopefully provide revenue and success to someone who has sacrificed so much for his country.

Thank you.

Tammy Hall
Sacramento, California

Tiglizzyclone said...

For me Thanksgiving was a quiet day. I got to sleep in for once. My daughter worked in the morning at Silverado Vet. On Tuesday, before Thanksgiving, we had a large Turkey Lunch at my job, in our classroom. I work at Redwood Middle school in the special ed class. The parents of the kids were invited.