Best Thanksgiving memories not tied to ‘worldly goods’
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Nov 23, 2011 | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The most memorable Thanksgivings in my life have been at my grandparents’ home in western Kentucky on the old farm which had been in Pa’s family for more than 150 years. The house was also very old, probably the same age. The rooms were large and heated by huge fireplaces in the “big room” and also the “front room”. The kitchen was heated by an old wood. The dining room was quite large by today’s standards and was between the big room and the kitchen and when the doors were closed at night, the dining room and kitchen were veritable ice houses.

The person I always remember most vividly was our Uncle Clarence, my Aunt Reba’s husband. They lived in Frankfort, which seemed a long way away in those days. They came for a visit in summer and always at Thanksgiving. Uncle Clarence was very unlike the other men in the family. There was Uncle Orbie, Reba and Mama’s brother, Pa and my father. Uncle Clarence even looked different. He always wore a white shirt and dress pants and dress shoes that were very fancy. But, would you believe, he wore a diamond ring! He was my idea of a city person. He was very funny and always teased us kids but he never went hunting on Thanksgiving morning as the other men did. He just wasn’t a hunting kind of man. Aunt Reba seemed quite glamorous to me, too, and was unlike the other women who wore housedresses to cook. Aunt Reba wore silk dresses and her shoes were beautiful and were hand made at a shoe factory in Lexington or maybe Louisville. And, too, she always wore silk stockings. But we admired her and loved her. Little did we know they weren’t really rich, just different.

Now, Uncle Clarence was well known by a neighbor because he couldn’t drive on our country roads and always got stuck crossing the creek. When the neighbor got the call to come pull a car out of the creek, he would say, “Clarence stuck again?” And he couldn’t drive up the steep hill which was usually wet and slippery in winter. Even as a little girl, I knew you put the car in second gear and floorboarded it to get across the creek and up the hill. But Uncle Clarence just never learned. But we all loved him just the same and looked forward to their visits.

We usually had three other family members, Uncle Omer, Aunt Otie and their bachelor son Bion. They weren’t really my aunt and uncle but they were sort of family and we always included them when they lived near enough to come. Uncle Omer was a share cropper and didn’t stay long in any place until he got to Pa’s and then he stayed which was fine with us. He played the fiddle and Aunt Otie played the guitar and they were so much fun to a little girl. Once, at the table, Ma served cranberry sauce, sliced, and Aunt Otie said, “Miss Sally, them is the best beet pickles I ever seen” and my mother caught my eye just in time to shut me up and stop my giggle.

The kitchen would be filled with women wanting to help Ma which was really not necessary since she was very, very organized but they were in the kitchen ready if needed, all but Aunt Francis, Uncle Orbie’s wife, who never did anything. Even I noticed that. Ma had a large table in the kitchen which she called the cook table and on it she did the prepping and where she set the finished dishes. It was usually full by lunch time, better known to us as dinner. We always had either a big turkey or several old hens, country ham, and my favorite, canned tenderloin. And no cook has ever made giblet gravy and cornbread dressing like Ma’s. Then there were vegetables of every kind which she had canned. Of course, there was always candied sweet potatoes and whipped Irish potatoes, another of my favorites.

But best of all were the great cakes which Ma was famous for. She had baked for at least two days getting ready for the big day. She made Lord and Lady Baltimore cakes, orange cakes, pineapple cakes and her best, the big fluffy fresh coconut cakes. I was the grater of the coconut and loved to do it so I could eat the white pieces of coconut. Ma was a renowned cook and took great pleasure in her cooking but I think she was best known for those wonderful cakes that came out of the little old wood stove.

Ma was very thoughtful when it came to the children. We always ate first at the big cook table and we got the first of everything. She loved to tell the story of her childhood when she had to wait until the men ate and then the women and finally, the kids ate. When it came her turn, her mother said, “Well, Sally, you can pick the carcass” and it made Ma so sick she couldn’t eat and she vowed that no child would be left out at her table. I also think it made things more pleasant to feed the children first and get them out to play some games. No fool, Ma.

After the meal was over and everyone full of dessert, the men retired to the front room to play sell pitch and poker. You never heard so much laughter and joke telling. Since that is where the excitement seemed to be, that is where I hung out for a while. I am not sure that Ma thoroughly approved of the card games but she gave no indication.

Of course, the women were in the kitchen cleaning up and washing dishes before they could all go to the big room to sit around and gossip a little and tease each other. I liked to be in on that, too.

As long as Ma was physically able, their home was where we all went for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It wasn’t the big meals that made their home such a happy place for the family but the peace and serenity in that place at that time. There was never any dissention between family members, no hard feelings between my mother and her siblings and no ill will for any family members. They just loved one another and their spouses. None of the family ever heard my grandparents speak a cross word to each other. Their love for one another was obvious.

And that is the legacy of a wonderful grandmother who never had much of worldly goods but oh, what she left to all of us.
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