Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Best Thanksgivings

A week from today we’ll be gathering around the table with our family and friends, stuffing ourselves like the turkeys we’ll be enjoying. But there’s nothing like a holiday to bring back memories of the past.

Each year when I was a young girl, one of the aunts (my great aunts) or cousins would host Thanksgiving, then another would host Christmas. Those were the two times a year I could count on seeing all my cousins. Sometimes it was our turn, but I liked it best when we went to Aunt Dorothy's house. She and her husband lived on the farm in the big house near Clearwater where Uncle Milt had been born in 1900. For many of those years, it seemed to me that it took most of the day to drive there from our house in Wichita, although it's only about twenty-five miles.

My mom was the designated turkey roaster, and I would awaken on Thanksgiving morning surround by the aroma of turkey. I doubt we ever missed the Macy's Christmas Parade back then, even as we packed up the turkey and other delights to head down the road to our holiday destination. Everyone brought something to eat. Aunt Dorothy's chocolate pie was always in high demand. At her house, there was a huge, solid wood table where the grown ups all sat. There were always at least a dozen of them, laughing and talking as they passed around the food. Kids sat at card tables, sometimes on Sears catalogs to boost us to the right height.

When dinner was over and the women had cleaned up, while the men--mostly farmers--sat in the living room, talking throughout the football games, the decks of cards were pulled out of the drawer in the buffet and the rousing games of pitch began. The games lasted throughout most of the afternoon and into the late evening, long past dark, and I can still hear the sounds of their voices, whooping and hollering at each other over each hand dealt and each card played.

But it was later in the evening that became my favorite as we grew a little older. My three female cousins and I made the table talk. Some call it table knocking, others call it table rapping, but whatever it’s called, the use and purpose is the same. One person on each side, if possible, hands flat on the table top and concentrating so hard that the house should've rocked, we mentally lifted the table on one side/two legs. Questions asked were usually yes or no, or sometimes involved counting. One knock for yes, two knocks for no. The adults eventually grew quiet, ending their last game of pitch to watch us. Uncle Sterl (Aunt Lucy's husband) would hoot and boo at us, convinced that one of us had to be tilting the table. We weren't. "How can we?" we'd ask and show him that the table could rise several inches...with no legs touching the floor. He never did believe us. One of my cousins reminded me recently that one year the table talking was so rambunctious, one of the legs broke!

I miss those holidays, and especially the talking table. We kids grew up and had kids of our own, who now have kids of their own. We made new traditions. My great-aunts, great-uncles, parents, and even a few of the older cousins are gone, but those Thanksgiving and Christmas memories will always be my favorite. If, like Emily in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, I could choose a time to revisit the past when I'm gone, it would be a holiday at Aunt Dorothy's house.

Have a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!


Pamela Stone said...

Thanksgivings on my grandparents' farm. Surrounded by tons of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Not to mention friends and others who joined us. Vegetables grown on the farm that my grandmother 'put up' for the winter that somehow still tasted fresh out of the garden. What happened to those days? Thanks for awakening the fantastic memories. So many wonderful people no longer with us, but so well loved and remembered. Hope you have a wonderful holiday.

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