As friends and family members sit down to Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, many conversations likely involve reminiscing about the past.

For the longtime Flagstaff families profiled below, that past includes decades and in some cases nearly a century of history in this mountain town. Here's a sampling of their stories about Thanksgiving, family ties and Flagstaff roots.   

SURROUNDED BY HISTORY

The Oak Creek Canyon house where Andy Dierker Perry and Don Perry will spend their Thanksgiving Day exudes Flagstaff history. Andy Perry’s father built the house out of World War II bomb boxes recovered from Camp Navajo and salvaged its beams from a water tower that used to stand at the Fort Valley Experimental Station.

Both husband and wife grew up in Flagstaff and now their children and grandchildren live in town. Andy Perry’s parents were doctors who came to help open a hospital in town while Don’s father was a well driller who sank the first Woody Mountain groundwater wells.

Thanksgivings were big in Andy Perry’s house. The dinner would include her and her five siblings as well anyone else her mom found who needed a place to go for the holiday, Perry said. Her mom would set the table with sterling silver silverware and candelabra, silver goblets, place cards and elaborately folded napkins.

She always cooked two turkeys to feed the crowd at the table, Andy Perry said.

Since her mother died in 2010, the Thankgsiving gathering is decidedly less formal and takes place at the family’s Oak Creek house rather than at her mother’s house in Flagstaff, Andy Perry said.

But she does carry on some elements of her mother’s traditions. She brings down the same cloth dinner napkins and makes place cards for the guests at the table.

Sometimes she’ll even bring down the family’s plate silver goblets

"It just makes ice water better,” she said.

A WEALTH OF STORIES

The year 1923 marks the beginning of the Anaya family’s history in Flagstaff. That year, Lupe Gil Anaya arrived at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks with her parents and brothers. She was three months old and her father was seeking work in the timber industry. Now, the Anaya family stretches five generations and 95-year-old Lupe Anaya sits atop the family tree.

When about 30 members of the family gather for Thanksgiving, Anaya will be among her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Along with the traditional Thanksgiving dishes, the holiday celebration comes with a helping of Flagstaff history, thanks to Anaya. At gatherings like these, she said she ends up talking about “what was and what is not” — what Flagstaff was like and the many ways it is changing in ways she wished it wouldn’t.

The stories of the past spill from Anaya. Memories of the Mexican hamburgers she made for her children to sell around their Plaza Vieja neighborhood, of living next to Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel because her family took care of the church, of spending Thanksgiving in the shantytown that was home to Flagstaff's sawmill workers.

With hands moving in stride with her words, Anaya jumps from scene to scene of Flagstaff’s history.

Thanksgiving in her younger days featured rabbits, chickens and ducks that the family raised and slaughtered, Anaya said. While that’s no longer part of the family dinner, they do add their own twist to some foods, Anaya’s son Johnny Anaya said.

Along with turkey, their meal will have chilis, tortillas and, for something sweet, baked pumpkin topped with milk and sugar, he said.

THANKSGIVING IN A STONE HOUSE

Deanna Tissaw Garbarino still has her family's group photo from Thanksgiving Day, 1955, showing 21 smiling faces that span three generations. But the roots of Garbarino’s family tree go much deeper than that.

Her great grandmother Matilda Hoffman arrived in the area by covered wagon in the late 1800s from Michigan. She went on to marry Jesse Gregg and the two started a ranch in Fort Valley, growing potatoes and alfalfa on land that is now part of the Cheshire subdivision. The family’s original homestead cabin was saved from the bulldozers and now stands rebuilt behind the Pioneer Museum.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, Garbarino’s family had moved into downtown Flagstaff. Her family and her grandparents lived next door to each other in small stone houses on Aspen Avenue, she said.

Thanksgivings were always hosted at her grandparents’ house, Garbarino said. Somehow her grandmother would make up the entire turkey dinner from scratch in a kitchen that couldn’t have been more than five or six feet across, she said.

The whole family would be there, with adults probably crammed around the dining room table and children eating on the coffee table or the floor, she said.

“In the picture grandma was just glowing because the whole family was there,” Garbarino said. “The main part of Thanksgiving was getting everyone there.”

Although she is the only one from her family still living in Flagstaff, Garbarino said she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Having a deep family history here makes it even better, she said.

“You always feel like you have a place where you belong,” she said.

BLESSED BREAD

Mary Vasquez-Powell’s family has been in the Flagstaff area since 1912. Her grandfather and grandmother emigrated from Mexico, drawn to the area’s logging industry. Her grandfather cut wood for the railroad and for the city steam plant, then got a job at the Saginaw sawmill, she said. After World War II, Vasquez-Powell’s grandfather, father and uncle started Vasquez Brothers Logging that worked in the area’s forests until 1989.

Vasquez-Powell said that home for most of her childhood was a piece of property on Lake Mary Road. Back then, it was just their family and one other, she said. Her grandparents had a small house beside her parent’s house and a big concrete area connected the two.

She remembers it snowing much more than it does now, but on Thanksgivings when the weather would allow, Vasquez-Powell said meal preparations would take place in that concrete area. They would set up a grill and play basketball or run little relay races that day, she said.

Every morning before the festivities began, family members would attend Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, which her grandfather had helped build, Vasquez-Powell said. The church has a tradition of blessing dinner rolls that get sent home with church members to share with their families at Thanksgiving, she said.

Her Thanksgiving is now much smaller, but Vasquez-Powell said she still plans to go to Mass and get rolls if the church is still making them.

FOLLOWING IN EACH OTHERS' FOOTSTEPS

Danny Hickey’s family has a long history of spending Thanksgivings in Flagstaff. Hickey’s father was born in a tent near Lower Lake Mary in 1928 and since then most of the family has stuck around to call the Flagstaff area home. For Thanksgiving, Hickey said his sons, grandsons and mother-in-law won’t have to travel far for the family gathering at his house. All of them live within about three miles of each other.

They also have passed through many of the same doors and hallways. Hickey bought his parents' old home and raised his boys there and both he and his children went to Flagstaff High School. That’s where his parents first met as well. Sechrist Elementary has also seen three generations of Hickey boys — Danny, his sons and now his grandsons.

It’s kind of neat knowing the area and knowing the places his children and grandchildren now frequent, he said. Unlike many families during Thanksgiving, seeing his grandchildren isn’t a rarity for Hickey.

He sees at least one of them every day, whether it’s attending their sporting events or watching the boys while his sons are at work.

Every seven years or so Thanksgiving falls on another special day for Hickey: his birthday.

“My grandpa told me I ruined a perfectly good dinner,” he said.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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