They talked about growing up out at Peach; and along the Steadman Ridge. They laughed about taking baths in Sugar Creek; and attending the one-room school house at Mt. Zion. They shopped at Minor Hill; and hauled their cotton to the gin in Revilo.
I heard so many tales about grandmother’s Aunt May White I felt like I’d actually met her. And Granny told that story of how her mother, when she was a child, helped carry a ham out in the woods and bury it in the snow – to keep the Yankee soldiers from taking it – so many times I can still see the footprints to this day!
It was the same every Thanksgiving.
Mom and Granny, and the aunts would be in the kitchen – stirring, sifting, baking, rollin’ out, stuffing – and talking all at the same time. And laughing! Back then I marveled as to how they had six different conversations going at the same time.
Today, I remember the laughter that near ’bout raised that old kitchen ceiling.
Uncle Ben and Pa would be in the living room, talking weather and politics. Daddy and Uncle Womack would be on the porch, smoking Camels. Uncle Hugh would be laughing over something, or nothing, because that was his nature. Uncle Clifford would do the listening for the whole group.
And Uncle F. D. would be chasing me and 14 cousins through the house, out the side door, around the driveway filled with cars and up one of the two mimosa trees that flanked either side of the house.
Dad and Uncle Hugh drove trucks to make ends meet. Uncle Clifford and Womack farmed. Ben was a teacher. F. D. chased kids for a living. Granny and most all the aunts would be listed as mothers and housewives. But if you think “simple folks,” you’d miss by a country mile!
To this day, it is the smartest, nicest, kindest, most honest and most sincere group that I have ever seen congregated in one place.
But they weren’t perfect… They had this silly rule in 1956 that the grownups would eat first and “all the rest” could have the leftovers. It was the same year after year!
Did I mention these people liked to talk? Well, they ate with the same gusto! F. D. and Ruby Nell were professional talkers. Hugh and Womack were world-class eaters. It was a time-consuming combination! I’m sitting on the living room floor, STARVING! I’m telling you, my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut!
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon for goodness sakes! Cousin J. C. has fainted from lack of nourishment. Uncle Womack asks for the dressing and giblet gravy to be passed back down his way AGAIN. And then F. D. launches into ANOTHER looonngg tale about coon hunting with those Richardson boys…
Pa was our savior. He’d slip us biscuits when the grownups weren’t looking. He’d get down on a knee so he could “look us in the eye” and quietly assure us that our day was coming…
There were times I wondered if it ever would. There were times I tired of the “noise” of Thanksgiving. There were times I thought it more of a rigmarole than a celebration of the season. Maybe I was numbed a bit by the sameness of it all…
Reality is often a dish served cold. I woke up on Nov. 25, 1965, 212 miles from the house; the distance too great and the money too short for me to even think of making it home. Your first year of college is bad enough under any circumstances… but it became unbearable on this day.
I thought of Pa as soon as my eyes opened. He didn’t pray over the food as much as he directly thanked God for it. And for this family! I heard the laughter I wasn’t going to be a part of. I felt Uncle F. D.’s loving hands slapping at my heels as I shinned up the nearest mimosa tree.
It started snowing as I hitchhiked the eight miles down to the Monteagle Diner. I thanked the very nice waitress as she set the “Thanksgiving Special” in front of me. I thought about how Clifford did more listening than talking. I remembered Aunt Adell’s beautiful smile.
How could one guy be so lucky… and so dumb! Why didn’t I pay more attention? Why wasn’t I more thankful? If I could just get back, I’d do more hugging than eating…
My tears salted the dressing.
As I paid up, Flo asked how I liked the meal. I thanked her again and told her how good everything was. But as I stepped out into the cold air, I thought, “It sure wasn’t like Aunt Beatrice cooked it!”
This Thanksgiving might be a little skewed at your house because of COVID and social distancing, or maybe it’s your first year away from home. But I’m telling you with my hand up – nothing on God’s green earth can prevent you from inviting the wonderful memories to the table…
Kes… and Pa
This article originally appeared on The Star: Hunker Down: A moveable feast