Tracks of Life: Now it's tomorrow, and everything has changed

Published 2011-11-24

Reading this now, four years later, I remember the reporting process being really enjoyable. At the time, our family traditions were changing, it was really nice to talk about these kinds of really normal things with others.

It's certainly not the best article I've written. But as such, it was easy to report on a quick hitter without dwelling on the subject or trying to do too much, which is really easy to do.

All that ego stuff aside. It's just really interesting to look back -- just four years later -- and consider all that has happened since. And then my mind begins to wander toward what will happen today as my parents are coming over to our place to have Thanksgiving dinner. It makes me wonder what it was like when my parents and my wife's parents were our age and experienced what we are. And I wonder what I was doing -- as a child -- with my folks rushing around to clean the house and prepare dinner.

It all just kind of makes me smile.

Happy Thanksgiving...

Originally published Nov. 20, 2007 in the Times (Northwest Indiana) and on

Changing holiday traditions

By Chris Keller

The poster tagline for the 1995 movie "Home for the Holidays" reads, "On the fourth Thursday in November, 84 million American families will gather together ... and wonder why."

The question is something students in a class taught by Indiana University Northwest professor Chuck Gallmeier have studied as part of an upper level sociology class.

Using sitcoms from the 1950s to the present day, students consider the changing dynamics of a family. And while those dynamics have changed -- through gender roles and family components -- the function remains the same.

"A family becomes what people define it to be," said Gallmeier, who leads IUN's sociology and anthropology department. "What's important is the idea that (Thanksgiving) is a day where people will gave thanks for the people who are family to them."

The idyllic family of the 1950s -- two parents and 2 1/2 kids who go to grandma's house -- accounts for about 20 percent of today's families, Gallmeier said.

Ward and June Cleaver wouldn't think of taking Wally and the Beaver out for dinner on Thanksgiving, but that is tradition for some families across the country.

So much so that Russ Adams, the owner of Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso, said Thursday will be the biggest day of the year for the restaurant, and it has been so since it opened in 1940.

Large family parties of 12 to 20 flock to the restaurant and use the location as a gathering point, Adams said. While there hasn't been much change in in-house dining over the years, Adams said the restaurant handles much more carry-out traffic.

Adams suspects the growth is due to busier two-income families who can't find the time to cook but still want to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings.

Thus it has become a tradition, Gallmeier said, which by definition means a consistency or comfort that comes from repeated actions and a sense of responsibility to uphold that fabric.

Ricardo Prince respects the importance of tradition. After his aunt's death several years ago, Thanksgiving would no longer be celebrated at her Munster home. So Prince, 28, and his wife, Carolina, took over as hosts at their Hammond home to keep the tradition alive.

"Grandma was big on all of us being together," Ricardo Prince said. "I wanted to keep that going. It was tough, but we pulled it off."

Highland's Kristy Shaw also felt the duty when she began hosting Thanksgiving dinner three years ago to give her mother-in-law a rest. And in doing so, Shaw began her own tradition -- a bingo game for her guests with themed prizes.

"I wanted something more. I wanted more traditions to be started and more memories to be made and by having this and doing the bingo ... this was my chance to create all that."

Gallmeier said people soon realize that although the form may have changed, the function remains.

"Change is something that people aren't comfortable with when it comes to traditional family holidays," he said. "The key to all of it is that they continue to do it, and over time, new traditions are always formed. That is the basic idea -- the root -- of why we do this."

Times staff writers Vanessa Renderman and Brian Williams contributed to this report.