About Me

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Florida, United States
Southern born, Southern reared. It's a quirky place and we are unique folk... These are my people and these are my stories.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Southern Thanksgivings

I grew up thinking everyone ate the same thing on Thanksgiving Day. Had the same rituals. Not so, I eventually learned.

In my family, Thanksgiving was linked with two other events.

1. My mother's birthday either fell very close or directly on Thanksgiving Day.
2. My mother's birthday marked the anniversary of my father's brother's death--killed by a drunk driver.
Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Want"

My mother and father grew up in the same small town, but they didn't really know each other until they were adults. I asked Mother why, with the number of citizens being so small, they'd not at least been friends growing up. Mother's reply was, "I don't know, we just weren't."

Mother was a woman of many words.

Mother said she remembered the day my paternal uncle was killed. He was loved by everyone who knew him. She said she remembered saying to her family, "How sad that while the whole world celebrates Thanksgiving and we celebrate my birthday, that family is mourning the death of a child."

This wasn't their first rodeo. They'd lost their oldest to a drunk driver (she was 17 at the time), the second child to pneumonia as a baby, and now ... this. Once again, someone had chosen to drink and drive. And kill.

My grandmother told me a story once ... the story of how she came to live in the pretty white house on North Caswell Street. Before my uncle was killed, he took her for a drive "in town." When they passed the house, my uncle declared it to be the most beautiful house in the whole town. He said, "Mama, one day I'm going to make enough money to buy you that house."

After he died, and after my grandmother received the settlement, she bought the house.

"I paid a lot for this house," she told me once. "And I don't mean money."

It was at that house, that rambling house on Caswell Street, that my family and I gathered each Thanksgiving. All the surviving aunts and uncles. The cousins. There was always a lot of food -- turkey, dressing (divided in the baking dish by aluminium foil with one half having onions and other other half not because my grandfather didn't like onions), all sorts of vegetables, and sweet potato souffle and pies and cakes. Sweet (sweet! I do mean sweet!) iced tea and my grandmother's famous biscuits.

There was also a football. After the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, and after eating enough food to sink a battleship, the adults rocked in creaky front porch rockers and talked while the children played an impressive game of football in the expansive yard between our grandparents' house and the neighbors'. Then the kids would pass out on chenille-covered beds, wake up with little patterns all over their face, and eat again. Sometime just after dark, we all packed up and went home.

I think of them every year at this time. I think of my grandparents, both who lived to be amazingly old, but both who are now with our heavenly Father. I think of my father and mother, who didn't live to be so old at all. At least not by my book. But I know where they are, too. I remember my uncle who died as a baby. My aunt and uncle who died at the hands of drunk drivers. My gentle uncle who passed away this past February after a long battle with Parkinson's. ("We have to stop meeting like this," I said to my aunt, the baby sister of the family, at the funeral home.)

And I think of my cousins ... many of us who are grandparents now. Grandparents. Now how did that happen? (I have a framed photo of several of us, as young adults, carrying our grandmother out of the house in our arms during one of the last Thanksgivings we were together before we, one at a time, married and began families of our own ...)

Yes, we're making new memories now. Memories for our grandchildren. We're baking turkey and Southern-style dressing ... but none of us will ever make biscuits like Grandma. We can try, but that element of Thanksgiving will remain only in memories of Thanksgivings Past.

And, when the last of us draws a final breath, the memories--all of them--will be gone.