Vivian Sade | The Journal Gazette

For the Heine family of New Haven, a turkey is only the beginning.

Thanksgiving is an entire weekend of family fun and sharing memories and laughter.

About 60 family members travel from all over the United States for the annual family celebration on the family farm, still owned and occupied by patriarch Gaylord Heine, 87, and his wife, Myla, 78.

On Wednesday, family members began arriving at the homestead, some from as far away as California, Florida, New York, Georgia and Texas, accompanied by 22 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Grandpa Gaylord’s wife of 60 years, Gertrude “Gertie” Heine, died three years ago. The main organizers of the event include their five children, Colleen Peters, 62, and Dave, 57, both of New Haven, Chuck, 61, of Toledo, Stan, 59, of Angola, and Gwyn Mannion, 54, of Syracuse, N.Y.

Two years ago, to the delight of his children, Gaylord Heine married Gertie’s best friend, Myla, who had been widowed 14 years.

Myla didn’t hesitate to jump right in and ensure the tradition continues, Gwyn said.

Myla even added her clan to the mix: two daughters and their spouses, five grandchildren and two of their spouses, and three great-grandchildren.

“It’s so much fun; my kids and his kids get along marvelously,” Myla Heine said. “And I think his children are glad their dad is not alone. I’m a pretty lucky gal.”

First things first

Thanksgiving Day begins for the Heine family with a 10 a.m. service at Emanuel Lutheran Church in New Haven.

After church, it’s time for cocktails, group photos and preparing for the 12:30 buffet dinner. But first, the family gathers for a long-held tradition and passes the Heine Job Jar, and everyone draws a specific task.

Everyone – even the little ones – is assigned a job, which includes coffee pourers, dish scrapers or washers, dessert servers, table setters and sweeper-uppers.

The Heines have never missed a year of celebrating Thanksgiving together, Gwyn said.

“We never realized that it was unusual – that others did it differently,” she said.

It’s a traditional turkey dinner – except there are three turkeys – with all the trimmings, pulled off with the help of Colleen’s excellent organizational skills and assignments on who brings what months ahead of time.

Gaylord & Myla Heine

Grandma Gertie’s caramel corn continues to be a highly anticipated dish, and Colleen’s homemade Bloody Mary mix is a huge hit with the adults.

After Grandma Gertie passed away Nov. 4, 2010, some were afraid Thanksgiving might fall apart.

“Mothers always seem to be the glue that holds the family together,” Gwyn said. “We decided to make the nine-hour drive to New Haven that Thanksgiving in honor of Mom.

“My sister took the job of organizing everything, but saying grace after such a sad time was hard. Tears were shed, but being together was the right medicine, and the tradition carried on,” she said.

Pecking order

Age determines seating. While first and second generations eat in the dining room, the younger ones eat in the garage, which has been converted to a dining hall, complete with fall decorations.

The conversation is vibrant and diverse, but one theme is always prevalent – talk of crop yields and the price of grain.

After dinner, everyone heads outside for a football game, then it’s back inside to play euchre.

At 6 p.m., a second dinner is served. While some choose to relax, others go shopping or play poker.

At some point, everyone writes down what they are thankful for, and all gather in the living room as the thoughts are read aloud.

Some are serious, and some are not.

Myla recalls with a laugh that Dave and Stan, who help their father farm, said they were “thankful for farm subsidies.”

Gaylord has downsized from the 1,000 acres he used to farm. Today, he and his sons farm about 300 acres.

Let the games begin

Friday at 6 a.m., while it’s still dark, it’s time for basketball and dodgeball games at the Central Lutheran gymnasium in New Haven, followed by breakfast at Richard’s restaurant, compliments of the Heine farm, “if it’s been a profitable year,” Gaylord said.

Then it’s back to the Heine household for naps or back to the gymnasium for a yoga class, taught by a Heine cousin who is a yoga instructor.

Last year Myla joined the yoga group, and she said she will go back every year “as long as I can.”

The class is a favorite for Emma Tubergen, 7, the oldest great-grandchild. Her mother, Jenine, is Colleen Peters’ daughter, and the family – including father Owen, Allie, 4, and Evan, 3 – lives near Chicago.

“I get to see all my cousins and I can do handstands at the end of yoga,” Emma said, then added thoughtfully, “but Uncle Chuck can’t do them.”

The naps are for the old and young, said Emma, who is just too excited to waste time sleeping.

Last year, Emma’s little brother and sister “fell asleep on dad’s lap while he was watching football,” she said.

“I’m usually playing with my cousin, Jackie, who comes from Florida,” Emma said.

“The whole weekend is amazing,” said Emma’s mother, Jenine. “It’s a big effort for many to come home, but everyone does it.

“As the generations get older, it becomes more important to continue,” Jenine said.

There is also time set aside for group showers – as in baby and bridal – for those about to become part of the Heine family. When there are no showers, the group goes bowling instead.

The adults in the family gather on their last night together and head to Billy’s in Zulu for a congratulatory meal. There’s one task left in the job jar for the last people to leave on Sunday. They retrieve the Christmas tree and holiday decorations from the basement for Grandpa Gaylord and Myla.

Most of them will spend Christmas at home, wherever that may be.

And after Christmas, with Colleen at the helm, the family will begin planning next year’s Thanksgiving event.

POSTED: 11/28/13 at 9:29 am. FILED UNDER: Entertainment, News