Brice Stump: Thanksgiving means coming home

By Thanksgiving, the leaves that burned with a blush of autumn colors have been blown away by chilly winds.

It seems, by the time the holiday is here, tree limbs are almost bare. Even the pesky weeds have lost their color now, the lush green now brown after a few “hard frosts” ended the reign.

The corn has been cut, and fields of pale watermelons were cut by the disc weeks ago. All that remains of the summer crops are wet fields of leafless soybeans.

The floating down of milkweeds has been scattered, too, by the strong winds of autumn. Squirrels are in abundance, busy storing-up heavy, brownish-green walnuts. Honking geese have come and search corn fields for their meals.

It is finally late November, and winter nears.

It is the perfect time for enjoying Thanksgiving, when the harvest is almost done and the frost that was on the pumpkins has transformed the countryside with change and color.

For so many people, Thanksgiving means coming home, and for folks who grew up in the country, Thanksgiving means returning to the farms of their childhood.

Perhaps it will be students coming home from college, coming back home for their first Thanksgiving after leaving the nest. Or someone serving in the military coming home.

Odd, that no matter how old one becomes there seems to be an eternal youthfulness in coming home for Thanksgiving.

Many young people may not know it, but there was a time when meals were made from scratch, when tables were set with prized china and silverware, and people relished the company of others.

Of all the memories we make growing up, Thanksgiving and Christmas memories always seem to be so special, so dear, so touching. It seems to me, a country Thanksgiving, a country Christmas just seems to be extra special.

Our farm near Vienna was deep in the country, so deep the nights were black indeed, and the silence was golden. As far as the eye could see it was pure country, deep woods, long lanes, small fields, creeks and rivers.

Every Thanksgiving, our parents or grandparents, or aunt and uncle hosted, the holiday dinner in their homes. Perhaps the crowd would be 15 people — kids, middle-aged and old folks.

My mother, grandmother or aunt worked for days in advance of the dinner, as so much of the meal was homemade. There was cabbage to grind for coleslaw, pies to bake, iced tea to prepare, and shopping to be done, yeast rolls to make. And ham was always served with the big turkey.

There are two peculiar memories that remain with me about Thanksgiving on the country.

The “fine china’ that was used only for company and holidays was purchased, piece by piece,  at the A&P grocery store in Cambridge.

My sister and her husband started buying pieces for my mother and she enlarged the set by adding to it weekly.

I know there are many families who have this special pattern and set of china from their many trips to A&P.

I have had many birthdays between then and now, and it is humbling, looking back, to remember how my mother cherished this set from a grocery store. And that one memory reminds me to be thankful for the small things in life. They were her treasures and she was grateful for being able to afford the dishes, one piece at a time.

And there is another memory that makes me grateful and thankful for “how far we have come” since those days so long ago.

It was traditional that women, not men, handled the entire Thanksgiving Day production. They did the grocery shopping, prepared the food, set the table, did the entertaining and all of the constant clean-up associated with preparing and serving dinner. As for the boys and men, well, they spent the entire day care-free. We male were free to talk, walk, ride, watch TV, play games, whatever the mood dictated.

And men were always, always, served dinner first. After they were done the women were allowed to eat — and serve themselves.

I must confess, I often wondered about this traditional set-up. It always aggravated my mother but she went along with tradition.

Then one Thanksgiving, the “women-folk” had something to be thankful for, finally.

For a number of years, Elizabeth Barker and her son, Lewis, of Baltimore, would come for Thanksgiving dinner when it was hosted by our grandparents. The Barkers were some kind of kin to my grandmother.

Elizabeth, though elderly, always helped in the kitchen. Her middle-aged son joined the rest of the women in the kitchen, too.

No one from the all-male club ever volunteered to join Lewis, and that he helped the ladies was always met with a bit of disdain.

Then one Thanksgiving, as the ladies loaded the dinner table with all kinds of delights, Lewis walked into my grandmother’s “parlor” filled with hungry men and boys and announced, matter-of-factly, that the women were going to eat first.

Not one of the men complained, out loud that is, and the women were delighted with the breaking of a tradition.

To this day I can’ believe my grandmother crossed the line on this issue, but my sister says she was delighted with the turn of events.

And yet, the following holidays, it was business as usual. It was just the way things were. It was a tradition. No doubt it was based on the way things were around 1900 when the men were in the fields working, broke for lunch, and needed to eat first too get back to the fields. But it was so comfortable for them to make it a so convenient.

I’m grateful and thankful that this tradition faded. Now if only more men would pitch in to help their mothers, grandmothers and wives. The ladies would have something special for their Thanksgiving Day.

Contact Brice Stump at myshorehistory@gmail.com.

 

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