By Richard Mabey Jr.
One of the most endearing and cherished memories of the Thanksgivings of my childhood and youth is
that of my beloved grandfather, heartily and enthusiastically celebrating this wonderful holiday. I
remember, all so dearly, how Grandpa loved to carve the turkey after he took it out of the oven of the old
Mabey Homestead in Lincoln Park. It was a task upon which Grandpa held as a most high honor.
Grandpa was a man who was governed by detail and precision. As a young man, Grandpa held the honor
of serving as the Chief Engineer of Incline Plane Ten East of the infamous Morris Canal. The need to be
detailed oriented, plus having raised his family in the heart of the Great Depression, gave Grandpa the
wisdom to carve each slice of turkey with great care.
“You never want to cut the slices too thick, Dicky Jim. But on the other hand, you don’t want the family
to leave the table hungry,” Grandpa would tell me with a bit of a song in his voice. My grandfather was
the man who bestowed me with the nickname of Dicky Jim. He was the last person to ever call me by that
name. I would greatly protest when I got to be about 11 years old and my aunts and uncles would call me
by that nickname. But, Grandpa was a different story.
It is all so hard to put into words what Thanksgiving Day was like at the old Mabey Homestead. When I
was a young boy and my great grandmother, Dora Mabey, was still alive, there had to be at least 50
people congregated within the warmth and love of the dear old farmhouse that my great grandfather had
built when he was just a young man.
Great Grandma Mabey worked hard to keep Thanksgiving Day all so organized. There was the old,
stately dining room table, which could only seat six people. So, on Thanksgiving Day, my dad and my
uncles would set up four or five additional tables. These extra tables were made up of old pieces of
plywood resting upon carpenter’s wooden horses. It was as down home as you could ever imagine. I
remember the touch of class that Great Grandma would add to the long procession of plates, glasses and
silverware. Great Grandma would have these folded oak tag nameplates, for every single member of the
Mabey clan. Great Grandma would decide where you would sit at that table and nobody dared to argue
with the proud matriarch.
After the Thanksgiving feast, the women would clean up and wash all the dishes. Most of the men would
congregate onto the enclosed front porch and tell remembrances of growing up in Lincoln Park. And
Grandpa would sit in the big, easy chair in the southwest corner of the big living room. My cousins and
my sister Patti and I would all sit upon the floor at Grandpa’s feet. Then, dear old Grandpa would tell
these wonderful and colorful stories of his remembrances of life along the old Morris Canal.
There were no video cameras back then, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Oh, how I regret that none of
Grandpa’s enchanting tales were not videotaped.
My grandfather was an incredibly talented story teller. He would hold us all spellbound with his voice
flexion, dramatic timing, facial expressions, and lively hand movements. I would do my absolute best to
engrave Grandpa’s stories within the fibers of my mind and the deepest chambers of my heart.
Grandpa’s stories did not just center upon his work on Incline Plane Ten East. For when Grandpa was a
boy and then through his teenage years, he worked with his father, William Mabey, at the old Mabey Ice
House that stood along the banks of the Morris Canal, just a few yards to the east of Incline Plane Ten
East. Great Grandpa Mabey had an agreement with Mr. Franciso, who owned the sawmill that was
located just to the northwest of the end of Mabey Lane. Great Grandpa and his sons, Watson and Earl,
would fill wheelbarrows with the sawdust from the mill and walk them over to the Mabey Ice House. In
exchange, Great Grandpa would provide free ice for Mr. Francisco.
As a boy, and then later as a teenager, during the winter months Grandpa and his brother would cut ice
blocks from the frozen water of the canal. They would tie a rope around the big block of ice, drag it to
their father’s ice house and then thickly pack it with sawdust in the icehouse. It was far from being the
In memory, I return to those wonderful and loving Thanksgiving Days. During my childhood and youth, I
never really realized just how precious they were. An era has now long past. Like grains of sand slipping
through the crevices of my fingers, time has passed all too quickly. Now, at 69 years old, I long to relive
just one more Thanksgiving Day of that magical era.
To see Grandpa proudly carve the turkey. To see Grandma stirring gravy at the old stove. To see my
father, young and proud. To see my mother, carefully placing the top crust onto an apple pie. To see my
cousins all running around the old Mabey Homestead. To see my Great Grandma firmly, but lovingly,
commanding everyone to different tasks. To see my aunts cutting up green beans and carrots. And to see
my uncles, all gathered upon the enclosed front porch telling tall tales of their youth. And, for one more
time, to be able to see and hear Grandpa tell just one of his colorful tales of life along the old Morris
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please
kindly write “Thanksgiving Story” in the subject line.