Monday, November 20, 2023

Monsters of Thanksgiving

I have posted this story, or some variation of it, every Thanksgiving going back ten years now. Hard to believe. Perhaps it is a tradition of its own, after a fashion.

Looking back, I think the notion of a "monsterous" [sic] holiday film marathon is an experience that many "Monster Kids" and youngsters of the 1970's cherish and remember fondly. But, of course, the marathon is a reminder not only of monsters, but of family too, and of a specific time and place from our youth.

And, surely, this story is about how a memory of watching a film can color memories of families and holidays too.

Today, it is such a different world. 

Not necessarily better or worse. Just different. 

Today, we can put on any movie at any time, basically. We have options, and limitless possibilities via streaming. We can build our own marathon, specific to our family, on any day of the year. But the communal experience of enjoying of a film is something, perhaps that we have lost.  Or are in the process of losing.

When I was growing up in the New Jersey burbs during the seventies and early eighties, that communal idea of a holiday movie marathon, however, was thriving, especially, for some reason, with giant monster movies.

Every year, WOR Channel 9 would broadcast King Kong (1933), Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949) on Turkey Day.

Then, on Friday, the same station would host a Godzilla marathon consisting of such films as King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971) and many others. Some years, if memory serves, War of the Gargantuas (1968) also played.  I'm sure that's how I first encountered the film.

I remember showering and dressing early on those Thanksgiving Days, so I could be lodged near the TV when the Kong movies started. 

Meanwhile, my Mom and Dad would be busy in the kitchen preparing a great meal of turkey, stuffing, baked carrots with cinnamon, and home-made biscuits. The house would fill with the aromas of the feast, and even downstairs in the basement rec room -- while glued to WOR-TV -- I could feel my appetite for dinner building.

Our guests, usually my grandparents and aunts and uncles, would arrive sometime in the early afternoon, around 1:00 pm and I would socialize with them, and then sneak back to the family room for more King Kong.  Sometimes my uncle Larry, a monster movie fan after a fashion (ironic?), would join me.

Dinner had multiple courses. My mom made her home-made French onion soup, which is a delicacy she still makes, 35+ years later, and which my 17 year old son Joel now enjoys.

Then the meal and dessert -- a chocolate cream pie and a pumpkin pie -- would be served, and we’d all enjoy each other’s company over the delicious food.

After an appropriate interval of visiting and socializing, I’d high-tail it once more back down the stairs to watch more of the movies. Others would matriculate in and out to see what was I watching, and we'd socialize more.

I’m certain my description of Thanksgiving makes it sound weird and anti-social, but you must remember that in the seventies, there were no VCRs (let alone DVRs or movie streaming), which meant that if you wanted to see a movie like King Kong, you had to seize your moment, or else wait for another year. 

I believe it took me the better part of four Thanksgivings to see all of King Kong, and then not even in chronological order. I actually saw the entirety of Son of Kong first, perhaps because it was often scheduled between our early afternoon dinner and dessert course.

This tradition of King Kong Thanksgiving and Godzilla Black Friday continued over a long period at my house -- the better part of a decade -- so much so that I still irrevocably associate the holiday season with WOR Channel 9 and its monster movie broadcasts.  

I still remember, a bit guiltily, forcing my parents to watch the 1970's Godzilla movies on Fridays, while we ate Thanksgiving leftovers in the family room. My folks liked the King Kong movies, but when it came to Japanese monster movies, they weren’t exactly big fans.  Today, my wife, son and I prefer the Godzilla movies.

Forty years or more have now passed since those Monster Thanksgivings in NJ. 

My grandparents are all gone. 

Many uncles and aunts are gone, or living in faraway states, and the monsters on TV no longer roar for hours on end. 

I am grateful my parents are still alive and of course, I'm happily married, raising a young adult of my own.  As a country, our national holidays, like Thanksgiving, seem fraught with different dangers in 2023. Such as? Discussing politics, rather than the fictional dangers of Godzilla stomping Tokyo...again.

In the span of history, these marathons happened for a few short years,  I guess. But I'll always remember those years, and the company of family and kaiju.  

I'm thankful for those years, and those friends, and for all of you too, reading these memories today. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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