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Turkeys and Traditions Blend at Thanksgiving

Greg Kuhnen -- The Tech

By Carina Fung
associate news editor

With Thanksgiving only days away, students look forward to leaving MIT for a few days and filling up on turkey and stuffing. However, students are not the only ones eagerly awaiting the holidays. Many administrators, faculty, and staff will also be celebrating Thanksgiving in their own way.

Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 lives in nearby Framingham and will be hosting a traditional turkey Thanksgiving dinner for his relatives. He joked, "The main event for Thanksgiving will be to keep my 80- and 90-year-old relatives separated from those under 10."

Williams reveals special memories

Thanksgiving has special meaning for Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, who has vivid childhood memories of spending the holidays at her grandparents' house, only a few blocks away from where she currently lives. "We still use the same family silver and china, so I feel my life has come full circle," she said.

Williams particularly remembers the Thanksgiving of 1963, which came right after former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. "We were all in shock. My grandfather offered a special blessing that year, giving thanks to God for the family, which offered support and sustenance in such difficult times," she recalls.

This year, Williams will spend Thanksgiving at her home in Newton, with her husband and three children. "Most of our time is spent just being together and getting caught up with each other," she said. "For dessert, we have the usual assortment of pies, but we also usually serve something chocolate - the only legitimate form of dessert, in my opinion," Williams said.

Merritt reveals turnip craving

Professor of Literature Travis R. Merritt, former dean of undergraduate academic affairs, has always celebrated Thanksgiving with his family. "We've almost always included MIT students whom I know. That's added to the liveliness of the occasion," he said.

Merritt has held the position of "head honcho for turkey preparation" for many years. He enjoys experimenting with various types of stuffings and "the concoction of nutritionally incorrect gravy with lots of fat."

There is also an annual heated discussion in the Merritt household about how to tell when the bird is done - neither undercooked nor too dry. Merritt has a Thanksgiving passion for turnip, "whose sharp taste accentuates the blander cuisine, but not everyone shares that passion," he admits.

When Merritt was growing up in upstate New York, Thanksgiving morning often featured a somewhat disorderly, yet spirited, co-ed touch-football game. "But we haven't had one of those in some time," he said.

Celebrating with nature

Instead of spending Thanksgiving in a bustling house overflowing with relatives, Administrator in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Anne M. Hunter celebrates the holidays with nature. Hunter has spent her past several Thanksgivings with her significant other's family in Saugerties, N.Y.

The most enjoyable part of this trip is "that on Friday and Saturday, we drive out into the Catskill Mountains and try to find the emptiest, wildest place we can get to in our car," Hunter said. Since Thanksgiving occurs during the tourist lull between foliage and skiing, there is little traffic and very few people.

For several years, Hunter has been searching for the famous Catterskill Falls. There was once a hotel called the Mountain House on top of the mountain, with paths and bridges leading to the falls. But the hotel burned down and the falls have since been forgotten. "We've gotten close enough to hear the water, but it's always too muddy or icy for us to find the falls," she said.

Returning from the Catskills, Hunter tracks the Esopus Creek through a non-village called "Big Indian" and drives back along the Ashokan Reservoir at sunset. "I look forward to the stillness and the emptiness every year," she said.

The sounds of Thanksgiving

Associate Director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering Alan J. Grodzinsky '69, who teaches Fields, Forces, and Flows: Background for Physiology (6.561J), describes his Thanksgiving celebrations as a "bit of an MIT reunion." Grodzinsky explains that he always eats Thanksgiving dinner in New Haven, Conn. at his older brother Steve's home. Steve, his son Marc, and his daughter Rachel are all graduates of MIT.

Music after dinner has always been important in our family, Grodzinsky said. When his family forms a string quartet, Grodzinsky plays the viola; when the family desires folk music, Grodzinsky expertly strums the banjo and mandolin. Grodzinsky's 11-year-old son Michael and Marc both have their own drum sets, and liven up the party with their musical expertise. "6.013 [Electromagnetic Fields and Energy] lecture is usually prepared while Michael is playing away at full volume on his drums to the sounds of the Stones, symbols crashing," he said.

Lewin takes a break from physics

Professor of Physics Walter H. G. Lewin takes a short break from physics every year to have Thanksgiving dinner. "There have been years that I have spent all day, until late at night, at MIT, and I recall several years ago that I had a great Thanksgiving dinner with one of my graduate students at Walker Memorial. There were not too many people as crazy as we were to spend all day at MIT, but the dinner they had prepared was exquisite."

"I have a simple rule," Lewin said, "When you have a great meal, you should not feel stuffed; on the contrary, you should be able to have the very same meal again and enjoy it all over again."

However, Lewin remembers a particular Thanksgiving during one of his "absent-minded days," when he accepted two Thanksgiving dinner invitations. Since the dinners were at different times, Lewin decided to go to both engagements. This Thanksgiving turned out to be an exception to his rule, for he had two full-size Thanksgiving dinners and afterwards Lewin "felt stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey." Lewin admitted that there was "no way that I would have been able to live up to my simple rule: four dinners would definitely have been too much."

Lewin has decided to invite all three of his graduate students to Thanksgiving dinner, and will serve them a creative feast: Greek salad, tuna sashimi, prosciutto di Parma with figs, freshly boiled lobsters, artichokes, and persimmons for dessert.

A refreshing morning hike

Assistant Dean Katherine G. O'Dair is another enthusiastic nature-lover. One of her favorite new traditions is to convince several friends to get up at sunrise to hike up Mt. Monadnok on Thanksgiving Day. "It's usually really cold, but we always find ourselves alone in the park, and it's an excellent way to think of all the things we are thankful for," she said. Though O'Dair admitted that she does not currently have many people interested in participating in her adventure this year, she commented that "the week is still young."

Spending time with the family

For the last 10 years, Assistant Dean Neal H. Dorow has returned to Oregon to spend the holidays with his father. "It's the one chance I get to see my father each year," he said. The Association of Fraternity Advisors' national conference always occurs the week following Thanksgiving, so Dorow usually travels directly to the conference site from Oregon.