A Thanksgiving Day Story
November was sunny, yet chilly. The unmistakable scent of Thanksgiving wafted through Aunt Vickie’s home. As soon as one walked through the door, the fresh scent of welcome and hospitality met you. A few things had changed over the years, and yet they held an air of unfamiliarity since this was the first Thanksgiving done at my aunt’s country home. The pictures on the brown paneled walls were happy reminders of nights spent at Aunt Vickie and Uncle Johnny’s. And here I was, a grown-up, walking through the house with my granddaughter. I told her about how we created masterpieces out of Play-Doh, something our grandmother forbade us to have at home, and my favorite movie, Beetlejuice. Oh, and I can’t forget the times we wrestled Uncle Johnny to the floor. He never was one to shy away from the chance to play with us girls.
And while those memories swam like liquid warmth, the savory aroma of roasted turkey beckoned me to the dinner table, but not before I passed my aunt’s room where I spied my Great-Uncle Sammy’s cowboy hat and jacket perfectly arranged on the bed, and it created a Polaroid snapshot of days long gone. It was a warm familiar sight, which tugged me back through the corridors of my joyous memories of Thanksgiving’s past.
It transported me to a time of unbound skies and holidays aglow with magic. Times were simpler and families stuck together. Our extended family’s love protected us from the outside world. We had great-grandparents who steered the ship, and their affection seeped through the cracks around the white door of their home. I don’t think the devil himself could have felt unwelcome because I’m sure my granny would have hugged him just as tight as she did us.
On Thanksgiving, my grandmother would awaken us early, bind us up in a coat, and off we headed to our great-grandparent’s house, where a flurry of kitchen activity commenced. Both Grandma and Granny Wills went to work. They rubbed the huge plucked turkey with butter and spices while the collards boiled in the big steamer. Eggs danced in bubbling water, ready to be deviled and added to the famous family dressing.
Mom would come in from work ready to sneak the crunchy skin of the turkey. Though grandma’s watchful eyes always caught her red-handed. Then on to the best part, the cakes and pies. Pecan pies, pumpkin pies, lemon marquee pies, 10-layer chocolate cake, and biscuits kneaded, rolled, and shaped by my granny’s soft but firm hands. Her biscuits were hot and fluffy. And the cornbread was golden and buttery. Nothing’s better than home southern cooking.
Children didn’t have a place in the kitchen until the moment arrived to savor the spoons and bowls. In those days, children spent more time outside than in. And we had many things we could do. A path led to the dark pond with cute ducks waiting to be fed. A repainted swing-set sat in the front yard and the backyard was full of tall Georgia pines ready to join in our wild adventures and escapades. The brown sharp straw smelled of pine as our shoes crushed them beneath. The brisk wind whipped our faces red as we rode our bikes, arms outstretched, flying against an endless gray sky. Lips chapped, fingertips frozen, but nothing could put a damper on the cheerful spirit of Thanksgiving Day. Butterflies danced in my stomach in anticipation of everyone being together. My mom, aunt, and great-uncle were more like siblings, and their antics kept everyone entertained. My older sister and cousin sat on the back porch with the boombox blaring our favorite songs. We danced, and I listened to them talk about the delights of teenage life.
And since my grandmother, younger sister, and I shared a birthday this fall month, we celebrated our birthdays then as well. A cake for us all sat in the fridge ready to be cut. Visions of the gifts hiding in their wrappings were enough to have me biting my nails. The thought of the Thanksgiving meal made my mouth water, with mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and juicy turkey all on one plate.
Finally, we headed inside to find the old heat radiators humming their comforting tune, while blue and yellow lights flickered in the draft. There by the rusty grate, my younger sister and I lingered, absorbed in our chatter while we warmed our frozen digits. Our Papa Wills teased and eventually handed out soft peppermint sticks. He sat in his recliner and watched The Macy Thanksgiving Day parade, which played on the heavy floor TV. Black and white-colored, and we acted as today’s remote. Soon his snores would sound through the house like a train. We giggled as we continued playing with our toys on the living room floor.
Uncle Sammy arrived early to show off his trophy. A pained cry punctuated his entrance.
“Uncle Sammy killed Bambi.”
Broken-hearted. My sister’s red hair was like flames behind her as she dashed back inside. I stood motionless behind the adults and stared into the bright black eye of the dead deer on the red tailgate of the truck, wondering if it felt any pain when it died. Did deer go to heaven?
Uncle Sammy soon left to wash up and pick up Aunt Jean. And the distinctive scent of cherry pipe tobacco ushered his return in. Puffs of smoke rose from his black cherry-wood pipe. Many considered him suave in his fancy cowboy hats with jackets that matched, which included me as well. He laid them on Granny’s white handmade bedspread. She kept the creaky door to her room closed on those days, with its feather-filled mattress. A signal that the room was off-limits to little ones with dirty, touchy hands. Yet, within that closed door, a world of sweet memories unfolded—a nostalgic scene of our family’s history.
And as I stood there in my aunt’s bedroom doorway, I focused on that familiar sight, my uncle’s hat, yet now upon my aunt’s bed. A snapshot that hit the rewind button on my childhood and offered a fleeting yet profound glimpse into the past.
Thanksgiving, with its warm glow, became a time to relish these moments anew. The memories are like autumn leaves. They continued to unfold, which created a tapestry of gratitude that stretched across the generations. And with each Thanksgiving memory lives the essence of our family, love, and the timeless magic of Thanksgiving. A tradition woven deep into the fabric of who we are.