Thanksgiving Blessings of Times Past Remain to This Day

The bang of the door, the scent of home, and the love and laughter that comes from being surrounded by our kinfolk never grows old

Thanksgiving dinners were always held at our house on Georgia Street. Situated at the center of the block, it also held center stage for our larger-than-life family. Kinfolk gathered around 10 o’clock in the morning and the festivities ended well after dark had settled on the day.

Coming in from the outside cold, your senses were assaulted with scents of home as soon as you opened the back door. The kitchen was filled with whiffs of cakes baking in the oven, the sweet potatoes still warm, and the steam from the turkey giblets simmered on the stove-top. The turkey sat patiently on the counter next to the stove, waiting its turn to roast.

At the heart of the activity was Mama, standing at the kitchen table mixing up the cornbread dressing: one pan with oysters and one without.

Soon, the top of the deep freezer, now covered with a white tablecloth, as well as the kitchen counters, would be filled with enough food to feed an army. The buffet in the dining room was already laden with Japanese fruit cake, four pumpkin pies, four lemon meringue pies, two pecan pies (pecans were expensive) and Mama’s famous lemon-cheese cake.

More delicacies would arrive with the family. Next to their strong and unwavering sense of family, the Clarks loved food.

Carloads of relatives arrived and unloaded, and the yard and house soon filled to overflowing.

Uncle L.G., Uncle Noah Lee, and my mother, Gladys, each had families of five children. Uncle Laverne, Aunt Mildred, and Uncle Elbert had a combined total of 5 children.

Even though the children were instructed to stay in the yard, it was only a matter of minutes before the whole lot of us were off and running toward the barn, our favorite place for adventure. Slipping under the fence, we carefully made our way across the pasture. Walking as fast as we dared, no one made a sound for fear of alerting the horse or the cows, but especially the bull. The bull had never attacked anyone, but being kids we assumed the worst.

The mob reached the barn with one objective in mind. Climb it.

Reaching the top of the slanted tin roof required a special technique. After stepping on the lone cross tie, where the old hand pump stood on a pole, you would wedge your foot (shoes were recommended, although being barefoot was always an option) in between the smooth wooden slats of the lean-to. Then, begin slowly inching yourself upward by grabbing the end post, by which you pulled yourself up to the first level. This surface comprised the only flat portion of the roof. After the first kid was up, it was customary to give the city cousins a hand, as barn climbing was primarily a holiday experience for them.

After levering yourself upward another foot, you were now on the rooftop. Balance and caution were required, as the ground was approximately 20 feet below. The situation was better if everyone sat down, but when you were double-dog-dared to walk the length of the roof and back, no South Georgia kid worth his salt would refuse to take the dare.

Cobs of corn and hay string were passed out to everyone, with the instructions to securely tie the hay string around the corn cob, because there were no extras and once you were up, you didn’t go back down. After the corn was tied tightly to the cob, you would walk as far as you dared towards the edge and lie down on your stomach, meticulously dropping your string. Then, you’d wait. Pretty soon, one of the cows or the horse noticed the dangling piece of corn and came to investigate. In hushed, excited whispers we gave the warning.

“Be quiet. Here they come.”

The endeavor was kind of like fishing, except the unshelled corn was the bait, and we were trying to catch a cow instead of a fish. The first tug of the string as the cow took a bite was exciting, but a little scary. More often than not, the string was dropped in lieu of being pulled over the edge as the cow grappled with the corn.

Soon, we could hear the adults calling us to Thanksgiving dinner.

“Y’all come on in. It’s time to eat.”

Dropping our makeshift poles and lines, we clambered down, the older kids helping the younger ones. No child was left behind. The horse and the cows were occupied, busily eating the discarded corn. They paid no attention as we ran past them in a herd, headed back to the house.

Soon, 20 little angels said the blessing.

The men stood outside talking while the young’uns were served. Granny sat at the head of the dining table, smiling and enjoying every minute of the festivities, while Aunt Nita fixed her a plate.

As always, the boisterous and booming laughter and loud voices which accompanied the meal rang through the house. Kids ran in circles around the living room, playing with Uncle Noah Lee. Mama darted from the kitchen to the dining room in fast motion. Daddy removed to the den, trying in vain to hear the TV.

After dinner, we children drew names for Christmas, the day when we do the whole thing over again. Around dusk-dark, leftovers were served for supper before everyone headed home. Those who didn’t stay for supper filled a box, taking it with them to enjoy later.

As the last car departed, quietness settled over the house. Thanksgiving was over. But, the blessings of those days remain with me to this day.