Preparations for Thanksgiving during the 50s started long before November. The turkeys strutted about their pen, gobbling, and pecking the ground and each other for juicy tidbits. In Mama’s garden the mustard greens grew taller every day. Corn frozen from summer’s bounty waited in the freezer, clearly marked “Thanksgiving.” The sweet potatoes were waiting in a basket on the back porch right beside a huge pumpkin, but with November’s winds and rain, the pecans fell. Every Thanksgiving table in the Nichols household required both pumpkin and pecan pies. We gathered the nuts in the wind and rain if necessary, and then we shelled until our hands were sore, never questioning whether the results would be worth the effort or not.
When November arrived with too few pecans on the ground, Mama called Bobby Truitt to come shake the trees. He was my hero. I’d stand and watch him work as long as he stayed in the trees. Sometimes he climbed among the limbs of the 6 huge trees for several hours, grabbing enormous limbs and shaking them to send down great showers of pecans. The paper-shells we kept for our own use, and the rest Mama sold for Christmas money, but we had to pick them all up. To this day I can still see Bobby high in the pecan trees. Looking back, the process gives me goose bumps, but back then I just accepted it as the way things were.
On the big day, Mama arose at 4 a.m. to slide the selected turkey into the oven. She had to have it done early so she could use the oven for casseroles, breads, and pies that she’d not finished the day before. I could hardly wait for my favorite--the big pan of dressing that always accompanied the turkey. Mama’s dressing contained her homemade cornbread and biscuits, along with fresh onions and celery. A huge pot of mustard greens bubbled on the back of the stove, and myriad tempting aromas filled the house by the time the rest of us got up. The annual feast was well underway by 6 a.m.
Mama always invited relatives and friends to our feasts, but we were never surprised when strangers showed up. They’d come along with an uncle or a cousin, which was fine. We sat at several tables until the year that Mama bought the mammoth table just for holiday meals. She wanted to seat the entire family at one table, and by this time the family had expanded exponentially with in-laws and grandchildren. The new table had long benches on both sides so we could always slide in a bit closer to make a little more room. It pleased my mother to have the whole family around the table.
I don’t have a table big enough for all of us at one time, but I carry on many of Mama’s traditions. The greens are out back in the garden, and Larry’s already digging the sweet potatoes. The pecans are sitting on the counter, waiting for Julie to come from Atlanta to shell them. The cans of pumpkin are in the pantry, and the turkey will come from the grocery store. Sorry, Mama. But the warmth and happiness of having the whole family home will fill the house. The traditional feast will grace the table including my own version of Mama’s dressing and the required giblet gravy.
The grandchildren were a bit concerned about the feast since I am still incapacitated from my various broken bones and the males are cooking. The boys, of course, think only Grandma can produce that dinner. Thank goodness for Skype. I assured them that Grandma might not be doing all the chopping and lifting of turkeys into the oven, but Grandma is still very much in charge. The feast will be as wonderful as they remember and expect.
I hope your feasts and family gatherings are wonderful. May we all be thankful during this holiday season.
I enjoyed this story very much. Many childhood memories were revived while reading it.
Rebecca Truett Weikel
12/06/12 at 04:36 PM
The best gifts are those we are not expecting. I must say thank you for your gift to me. The gift of a long forgotten memory. You see, Bobby Truett was my daddy. Long ago when I was a little girl, I watched as he would indeed climb the pecan trees and shake those wonderful pecans down. I got a call today to tell me about your article and for a moment I was once again a little girl whose dad was shaking a pecan tree. A little girl whose mom and dad were both alive and young again, even if only for a moment. ( The blink of an eye.) Thank you for my memory. It is the most unexpected and treasured gift I have received in a long time.
Rebecca(Becky) Truett Weikel