Memorable Thanksgivings Include Neighbor’s Kindness; Departed Father-in-law

Doni, age 7, on East St. in Redding

In 1962 my mother, sisters and I lived on East Street, in a house that’s long gone. Across the street was a two-story Victorian house with rounded windows and a palm tree out front.

I thought it was a mansion. That house is gone, too. In its place is the Kiwanis House, a place for patients’ families to stay while loved ones are at Shasta Regional Medical Center.

Inside that grand house lived a widow, Mrs. Norgaar, a  jolly woman with hair wound around her head like a cinnamon bun.

She befriended our little family. She sewed doll clothes for my doll, and drove us to the store, and once took us to watch the fireworks with everyone else in the city on the Market Street Bridge. She gave me and Shelly Bibles for our 7th birthdays, inscribed with our names and a scripture.

My scripture was II Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 

To this day, I’m not exactly sure what that was supposed to mean for me, at 7, but I still have the Bible.

Eventually, we took to calling her “Grandma Norgaar,” which was fine with me because I’d always wanted a grandmother.

“Grandma” Norgaar circa Aug. 1962

 The year she invited us to Thanksgiving was the first time I recall seeing a formal table setting. Flowered china. Clear goblets. Silverware extracted from a large velvet-lined wood box.

Come to think of it, I don’t remember too much about the meal. What really stuck with me was the table. It was large, cloth-covered, and absolutely loaded with all kinds of fragile glassware and finery. And it was surrounded by people – strangers to us, with the exception of Grandma Norgaar.

Earlier that day, Grandma Norgaar had enlisted my help to create place cards fashioned from construction-paper turkey hands, with cigar-shaped feathers pasted in place. Even as a little kid, I could tell that place cards were what separated the ordinary folks from refined citizens. These place cards were made even more magnificent with Grandma Norgaar’s cursive handwritten names. The word Donielle never looked so elegant.

Life is so bizarre sometimes, because I had quite the shock when I bought my home in the Garden Tract a few years ago during one life’s darkest hours of loss and pain. Lo and behold, I discovered that my next door neighbor – a woman in her 80s – was Grandma Norgaar’s daughter, Eloise Felch.

I’m thankful this Thanksgiving for people like Grandma Norgaar, whose kindness  remains as clear and memorable as the crystal goblets on her Thanksgiving table.


That was the initial end of this column.

But this Thanksgiving my thoughts turn to Donald Domke, my father-in-law for 16 years. He died Tuesday, one day after his 89th birthday.

Don and Doreeta Domke celebrating their 60th anniversary in Europe.

This Thanksgiving, when I think of Don, I can almost hear the loud whine of his trusty electric knife as he expertly carved the turkey. I think of how much he liked mincemeat pie, which my sister-in-law, Denice, baked each year for her dad. He pretty much had the pie to himself.

I think back to how Don was the kind of grandfather who got a kick out of teaching his tiny grandchildren how to “make an ugly face” – which explains family photo albums full of toddlers with extremely crossed eyes and hanging tongues. He was the kind of grandfather who started a tradition when daughter Sarah was 5 that all his grandchildren from then on would go on a camping trip with Grandpa Domke when they were 5.

Most of all, I’ll remember a man with the brightest blue eyes, a man of few words, but abundant love. I’ll remember a guy who liked the sound of the pan flute, and him driving Old Blue, his International pickup, to a whole new place.

UPDATE:  Memorial services for Donald Domke will be held at 11 a.m. on Fri., Dec. 20 at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Igo. A reception will follow at  1 p.m. at the Riverview Country Club.

 In lieu of flowers memorial gifts can be made to Mercy Foundation North, Cardiac Services, 2400 Washington Ave., Redding, CA, 96001, or “Plant a Tree Program” at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, 844 Sundial Bridge Dr, Redding, CA 96003.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I invite you to share some of your most memorable Thanksgivings. 

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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5 Responses

  1. BarbaraRice BarbaraRice says:

    My most memorable Thanksgiving was memorable for all the wrong reasons. In November 1979 I lived far from my family to be with my then-boyfriend. We had an invitation to join his sister for dinner but he felt it was a "charity" invitation, so he said no as a way to let his family know he didn't need them. We did absolutely nothing for Thanksgiving. I was miserable while he enjoyed his snit. By the next Thanksgiving I had wised up and come back to be with my family. Since then, some years have had their sad moments when we think of who isn't at the table any more – but we are all together.

  2. Avatar Debra Atlas says:

    Thanks for the lovely memories, Doni. Happy Thanksgiving


  3. Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

    Thanks for sharing, Barbara. Sometimes life's most memorable events are not necessarily the best ones. But as you point out, they're good lessons, at the very least. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  4. We used to celebrate Thanksgiving at our ranch in Oklahoma – a very rural, beautiful area. The ovens in the main house and the guest house were filled with turkeys, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and last-minute pies, in anticipation of a feast! The new boyfriend of our partner's daughter was giving guests rides in his plane, when he decided to "buzz" the family – he came in too low, clipped the power lines, and there went our electricity! We fired up the barbecues and finished cooking whatever would fit, resulting in a delayed, strange-looking dinner. We had power again by nightfall, but that was definitely a Thanksgiving to remember.

  5. so sorry to hear about your father-in-law. sounds like he had a good long life.

    Thanksgiving in our house was pretty great this year. John, Phil and I spent the day making food, talking about who knows what, and then eating the food and groaning to the couches. I wore my pj's all day. Such a nice relaxing day off!