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Aspinwall man's family tradition includes friends and strangers

| Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 10:55 p.m.
Rob Strohm embraces Nancy Heil along Brilliant Avenue in Aspinwall Tuesday, November 20, 2012. Strohm finished deep frying three turkeys for those who wanted some, a tradition he has been doing for 21 years. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

After 220 years in Western Pennsylvania, a family develops its share of traditions.

Rob Strohm stood at the corner of Brilliant Avenue and Loop Street in Aspinwall this week keeping one of his family's most recent contributions to Thanksgiving custom.

Strohm, 49, of O'Hara, whose family arrived in the area in 1791, carefully lowered a 14-pound turkey into a bubbling pot of oil as, across the street in the Coldwell Banker office where he works, people from neighboring businesses emptied the foil tray holding the picked-over remnants of the second turkey he'd fried that day.

“We invite the whole street,” Strohm said Tuesday. He and his colleagues donated 30 turkeys to the homeless this year and bought three for their pre-holiday celebration.

Thanksgiving is a day of family traditions nationwide, and this particular Strohm family custom began 21 years ago, after a cousin from Louisiana first told him it was possible to deep fry a turkey. Back then, turkey fryers were scarcer than today, so Strohm had to rig his own from a propane heater and stock pot provided by an ice cream shop.

“My whole family will not go back to turkey cooked in an oven,” Strohm said.

So Strohm will be back at the deep fryer Thursday preparing a bird big enough for about 10 people.

Eighty-five percent of people plan to join some kind of Thanksgiving gathering this year, according to an online survey of more than 3,500 people by CivicScience, a research firm with ties to Carnegie Mellon University. Thirty-four percent will join gatherings of more than 10 people.

Margaret Joneikis, 74, of Summer Hill, has had as many as 18 at her Thanksgiving table, she said. Though she expects only five people this year, she'll be ready for more “in case anyone drops in,” she said.

On her menu this year: turkey, stuffing, brussels sprouts, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, and cole slaw, with pumpkin and lemon meringue pies for dessert.

“It's a yearly routine,” Joneikis said.

She and her husband, Henry, said stores that remain open on the holiday irritate them. “They should be home with their families.”

Six percent of people plan to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant. Among them will be Tim Betz, 22, of Ross and his grandmother. Betz moved back to the area from Chicago three years ago, and the rest of his family is “scattered around the country.”

A chef at The Cheesecake Factory, Betz said he doesn't want to spend his holiday in the kitchen.

“Thanksgiving is the only day I have off until sometime next month,” Betz said.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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