It started in the 1940s when Earlene's parents and cousins went to a picnic site on South Mountain overlooking Phoenix to celebrate Thanksgiving. The locale has now followed George and Earlene to Saguaro National Park, outside Tucson, where you can view the mountains that frequently served as backdrops for John Wayne's movies. There were 42 gathered among the saguaros this year.
Earlene always supplies turkey and dressing augmented by everyone’s own specialty. Todd is the pecan and pumpkin pie man. Jim excels at green chili cheese rice casserole while Becky hits the mark with cheese mashed potatoes. Elly weighs in as sous chef on the turkey dressing plus a special cranberry recipe.
The crowd this year represented all points of the compass. There were students from Northern Arizona University and folks from as far away as Texas and New Mexico.
Everybody brings their own table service, varying from sterling silver and crystal to paper plates and plastic. The dessert bar is stocked with pumpkin, cherry, and apple pies, cookies, rum cake and a wine selection that ranges from fine wines to Two Buck Chuck. Oh, yeah. There's a mammoth pot of coffee started by Jim and Todd who head out early to secure a ramada and begin their Thanksgiving celebration with an early morning mountain bike ride as the sun rises.
In 1941, airmen from Luke AFB were invited. The Ridges joined the crowd in 1949 when George and Earlene started noticing each other at Glendale High. The festivities continued without them while they were in Germany. Later, the Tucson-Phoenix family branches met halfway on neutral ground at Picacho Peak, the westernmost Civil War battlefield, before moving to the current South Mountain location.
After all the food, there's always a ceremonial hike up one of the mountains surrounding the ramada.