Thursday, November 22, 2001

Giving thanks

Despite racial and cultural diversity, a single message rings true across the Tristate

By Earnest Winston and Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Thanksgiving, which originated in 1621 as a feast by Native Americans and the Pilgrims, is perhaps America's first celebration of diversity.

        Today the Tristate, like the rest of the nation, is an increasingly diverse mix of races, ethnicities, and nationalities that range from descendants of Germans who settled Cincinnati's riverfront three centuries ago to newly arrived Hispanics streaming into the suburbs today.

        Here is a sampling of Tristate Thanksgivings — from a farm in Liberty Township in Butler County to a soup kitchen in Over-the-Rhine:

Chores won't wait

        Bob and Bethann Niederman plan to spend the day with family and a feast grown on their Liberty Township farm.

        “We always have a big family meal,” Mrs. Niederman said. “We meet at our parents' house and have home-grown food. It's special when you raise your own turkey and produce.”

        But farm life means the family, which includes four children ages 5 to 11, won't have the day off. “Of course, we have to do the chores before we go, and we have to cut it short because of work and family,” she says of the 463-acre dairy farm where Mr. Niederman's parents, Robert and Janet, also live.

        Every year is special, Bethann Niederman says, but this year the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks loom over the holiday.

        “So many things have happened. We feel on the farm that we're a little removed from all of this, but now the farm magazines are warning us to be aware of possible tampering with the food supply. So we're definitely not immune,” she said.

Country comfort

[photo] Jerry and Becky Sebastian of Fort Thomas, Ky., are both natives of rural Breathitt, Ky. Their Thanksgiving is steeped with country tradition.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “You've won the lottery when you're born in the United States. That's how blessed we are to be part of this country,” says Becky Sebastian, 64, of Fort Thomas.

        About a dozen relatives will fill the home she shares with husband, Jerry, also 64, for a Thanksgiving feast of “turkey with all the trimmings.” In addition, there will be a vanilla cream pie, rich with milk and eggs, that Mrs. Sebastian's 84-year-old mother has been making for years.

        Afterward, more than one person will probably take a spot on the couch, where a “throw” is etched with “Beautiful Breathitt County” in Eastern Kentucky's Appalachia. It is one of the few touches that reveal the Sebastians' Appalachian roots.

        “We are thankful for how fortunate we are,” Mr. Sebastian says. “I'm sure we will all be a little more aware of how fortunate we are, living in this country.”

On the road

        Jim and Rebecca Fitzgerald of Forest Park planned to hit the road late Wednesday to mark the holiday — first joining Mrs. Fitzgerald's large family in Russiaville, Ind., then to Pulaski County, Ill., an Ohio River community where Mr. Fitzgerald's mother lives. They usually make the trip in four hours.

        At both celebrations they expect to hear prayers of thanks for the blessings they enjoy, as well as prayers to remember the victims of Sept. 11.

        “We'll be conscious of how really blessed we are to be alive,” Mr. Fitzgerald, 49, says.

        Mrs. Fitzgerald, 41, agrees.

        “If anything, it reaffirmed my faith in God. There are going to be some bad things happen and we have to prepare for them and keep our faith in God.”

After the fast

[photo] After sunset, the Nashid family will begin their Thanksgiving feast. From left are Ibraheem, 12; Muslimah, 8; Firdaws, 7; mother Lateefah; father Iman Ilyas Nashid; and Shamsud-deen, 5.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Lateefah Nashid will smell Thanksgiving all day but not take a bite until the sun goes down.

        Mrs. Nashid, her husband, Ilyas, and their four children of Pleasant Ridge are Muslim and it's Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that requires followers to fast from sunrise to sundown.

        The turkey won't tempt Mrs. Nashid; she's a vegetarian. But the table will be full of her favorites — dressing, macaroni and cheese, salads, bread.

        The Nashids will wait until about 5:15 p.m. to eat, but they will spend the day enjoying other Thanksgiving traditions.

        About 20 family members will gather. Kids will run all over the place. The family will play cards and Jenga and watch videos from last year's holiday.

        Mrs. Nashid's favorite part? When each family member stands up and says what they're thankful for.

        “It's a good day,” says Mrs. Nashid, 37.

Time to reflect

        There were never aunts to squeeze Sam Knobler's cheeks or uncles to bounce him on their knees.

        “My family's pretty limited in size, thanks to Mr. Hitler. Thanksgiving was always a private affair,” says Mr. Knobler of Blue Ash.

        His parents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States. Without family to fill the table, Mr. Knobler and his wife, Susan, often invite guests, people new to the community who don't have any family nearby.

        This year, their two children will come home from college, and Mr. Knobler's mother-in-law will visit from New Jersey. They'll eat a leisurely meal and catch up.

        It also will be a time of reflection.

        Thanksgiving is a day to remember the “the good fortunes we have here, the food we have to eat and the freedoms that until Sept. 11, we enjoyed without any anxieties,” says Mr. Knobler, 52.

        “Obviously for us, this will be a time of contemplation and reflection about what is happening to civilization — an issue my family has had to struggle with for many, many years. ... That's going to make this Thanksgiving more unique than any previous one.”

Food for thought

        Del Hodge won't eat breakfast today. Or lunch. He'll just nibble until the big meal at 5 or 6 p.m.

        His mom stopped slapping his hands when he reached for a pinch of turkey a few years ago. The grandkids still get a scolding.

        About 20 family members will gather at his mom's place in Colerain Township. They'll toss the football and share the same menu as millions of Americans — turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans and cranberries. His wife Diana, due Nov. 30 with their second child, hopes the baby will come early — as long as she gets to eat dinner first.

        For Mr. Hodge, the meal will have special significance. For two years, he has organized a group from the Air National Guard in Blue Ash to help at the FreeStore-FoodBank in Over-the-Rhine.

        Each bite means a little more, says Mr. Hodge, 29, of Fairfield Township.

        “I know not everyone has the same opportunity.”

Home sweet home

        Myra and Emmenel Cvasay and their 3-year-old daughter, Emmira, will celebrate in their new Mason home.

        “Every year, we celebrate Thanksgiving at a friend's house. I was real excited about this,” Mrs. Cvasay says. “We really wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving in the house.”

        Originally from the Philippines, they have adopted the custom since moving to Cincinnati in 1999 for her husband's job.

        Today the family plans to enjoy a meal of roast turkey, rice, tropical fruits and murkon — a special Philippine dish that includes beef, sausage and eggs.

        “We want it to be very special because it's the first time in the house and it's just the three of us,” Mrs. Cvasay said.

Close ties

        Roy E. Norris and his wife, Jo Ann, will gather with family at the Delhi Township home of one of their five sons, J. Steve and his wife, Renee.

        And that's the point, he says.

        “We're very lucky as a family because all (of our sons) are within Greater Cincinnati but one. He lives in Chicago,” Mr. Norris says. In “so many families the kids go away to college and never come back.”

        The celebration of family “translates to thankfulness. I don't think you think of it that way ... but that is the result of it.”

        The 79-year-old College Hill man says the gang will bring each other up to date on goings-on. Everyone will bring a dish for the feast.

        “With winter coming and all, it's like the last big hoopla before Christmas,” Mr. Norris said.

Much to celebrate

[photo] Gustavo and Blanca Sanchez of Florence, Ky., with son Carlos.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Gustavo and Blanca Sanchez spent last Thanksgiving in the hospital where their infant son Carlos struggled as a result of his premature birth.

        Today, the natives of Mexico, who lived in California before moving to Florence, Ky., four years ago, will celebrate with hot fruit punch and a meal that includes a baked rice dish mixed with cream cheese, ham and vegetables and a turkey marinated with beer or orange juice.

        They say they have much to celebrate.

        Carlos, now 19 months old, is “our miracle baby. He was in the hospital for about four months for surgeries,” says Mr. Sanchez, 25. At birth, their brown-eyed baby weighed 1 pound and 15 ounces; today, he weighs 22 pounds. Mrs. Sanchez, 27, says Carlos has recovered and is “doing real good.”

        The couple gives “thanks to God that he's alive, that he's with us.”

Deeper meaning

        September 11 has made us all realize that life is tenuous, says Denise McPherson, director of the St. Francis Soup Kitchen.

        As hundreds of poor and homeless people gathered for the Thanksgiving meal served Wednesday, Ms. McPherson says people talk over plates of hot food and share a day and a meal together.

        “We take a lot of things for granted,” she says. “We've had some really harsh tragedies here in Cincinnati and all over the United States. Now, knowing that every moment and person is precious ... (Thanksgiving) will have a whole different meaning than getting together and chowing down and watching games all day. I can only hope that the meaning will be truly giving.”

        The United States is at war, she says. Perhaps Thanksgiving will never be the same.

        Enquirer reporters Michael D. Clark, Randy McNutt and Richelle Thompson contributed to this story.

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