Our cherished American tradition can be the delightful friends and family affair we dream of, or a minefield of emotions, unexpected incidents and unforeseen challenges. We recently asked Benicians to share Thanksgiving experiences. Tom Hamilton, Benicia’s favorite Hungarian barkeep, starts us off.

Tom Hamilton: “My Thanksgiving takes us back 55 years, to a time when our world was a little more compassionate and a lot kinder. It was post-Korea, and the Bay Area was a substantial hub for several branches of our military. I remember seeing posters asking the public to open up their homes during the holidays to servicemen who were away from home, and could use a friendly place to spend the holidays. We didn’t have much, but we were happy to share our table, and having someone in uniform with exotic tales from overseas was exciting for any eight year old. Mom was a divorced, working mother of four, and she always insisted on including neighbors Mrs. Berry and Mrs. Jones. They were elderly widowed ladies, and fixtures in our home. Add our old-world, Hungarian grandparents to the mix and it was quite a table. I wish the compassion to help others was something you were born with, but it has to be passed on from one generation to the next. Do anything you can to enrich the lives of others, be kind to animals and have a happy Thanksgiving.”

Amy Carpenter: “At my house I always keep a fire extinguisher and the fire department’s number close by.  One year before I knew how to cook, I started a grease fire in the oven.  I quickly learned you shouldn’t wrap the turkey in several layers of foil if you don’t have a pan.”

Larnie Fox: “When Maria Jenerik and Matt Callahan moved to Benicia in 2014, so did our warm and wonderful orphan's Thanksgiving. Somehow, Thanksgiving makes more sense here than it did in the City.”

Dyanne Vojvoda: “Thanksgiving is always sentimental to me. I love fall colors and comfort foods. When my mother gave up the annual family turkey dinner at her house, I took on the custom at my house. I prefer friends over for an extravagant too-much-to-eat dinner and loads of packaged containers to take home. Many good memories!”

Marty Duvall: “Uncle John at the head, me, my siblings and cousins at the far end at the shaky card tables where the kids ate. Seating from left to right toward me from the head of the table, Aunties Dutchie & Mary, Uncle Glenn, Uncle Packy, my Grandparents Otto & Margaret, Hanna Kirkhouse, Boots the Bartender from Chuck & Henry's, Michael Slattery from the old country, my parents Ray & Patsy, Jim & Joan Kelleher, Baby Packy, Lee Stenso, Cousin Kathleen—finally the Duvall, Kelleher and Porter kids. No more shaky table, it’s now 20'. Most of the names above are gone. I am closer to the head of the table now, nearer to the perennial perfect turkey.”

Elizabeth d’Huart: “Several Thanksgivings ago, a family member invited his then-girlfriend to our family gathering, failing to inform me that she was allergic to nuts.  Normally, my turkey stuffing recipe is my mother’s standard one of bread cubes, butter, celery and onion with a bit of sage, but this time I decided to dress it up a bit by adding pecans and oysters.  Well, you guessed it … half way though the delicious dinner, she showed signs of anaphylaxis as well as surprise and indignation that the boyfriend had not communicated her allergy information to the hostess-cook.  Of the original party of eight, all but two of us galloped off the emergency room.  She recovered with a quick dose of epinephrine—the relationship did not. I had lots of leftovers!”

Heidi Benjamin: “At the Benjamin residence, we are fortunate to be able to deliver Thanksgiving meals, each in a banker box, to needy families throughout our Benicia and Vallejo communities with our congregation at Northgate Christian Fellowship in Benicia. It is such a great feeling to reach out to less fortunate families.”

Mike Caplin: “Quite a few times over the past several years, Kris and I celebrate Thanksgiving with a late lunch/early dinner at the Lark Creek Inn in Walnut Creek. They have a very nice Thanksgiving menu and Locust St. in Walnut Creek is lined with trees showing their fall colors. Afterwards we'll take in a nearby movie, and so starts the holiday season for us!”

Elizabeth Tageson: “I am so thankful for the last Thanksgiving I was able to spend with my parents, sisters and brother. Mom had been diagnosed with cancer, but little did we know it would be the last Thanksgiving for us all to be together. Both Parents passed away in 2012, just months apart. I enjoyed every moment and am very grateful for the memories.”

Sally Brennan: “One year we ordered lobsters from New England—we were living in Maryland and the entire group loved it, except for mom. She was quite disappointed at the lack of turkey and stuffing, and especially the lack of leftovers.”