When you gather with your family today, I’ll wager that more than a few of you will be thinking, much of the time, of other Thursdays.
This will depend on your age, of course, and on the number of Thanksgivings that you have enjoyed. Or survived.
I’ve logged a good many Turkey Days, myself. And, though I can’t attest to the nature of the first few, I can happily report that this particular holiday accounts for some of my fondest memories.
Thanksgivings in Oakwood, my East Texas hometown, were outstanding when I was a boy. Especially if a big blustery norther had blown in, scattering oak and sycamore leaves, some as big as saucers, all over the place. When everything was brown and yellow and the sky was slate-gray, when one of my father’s carefully laid fires roared and popped in the fireplace, and the aroma of my mother’s roasted turkey and fresh baked pecan and sweet potato pies drifted through the whole house. When family members would come in and chatter and hug everybody and we’d all try to imagine what the floats in the Macy’s parade on our big black and white Zenith would look like in color.
That’s how I remember all of those early Thanksgivings. But of course some of them were surely sad or rainy or downright hot. But I’ve erased those, and what I have left were all Norman Rockwell affairs.
I do recall that the 1963 meeting was a little somber. My sister’s husband had died in a car accident in May. Then President Kennedy was assassinated a few days before Thanksgiving. But Walter Cronkite said on the television that we should, as Americans, make the best of the situation and count our blessings. So we did. We generally paid attention to Walter Cronkite.
A decade later found me in the army, stationed in a small town in Bavaria. Thanksgiving is not a German holiday, of course, so the cooks at our mess hall went all out to provide a festive occasion. There were fat turkeys and all the trimmings, pies – mincemeat and pumpkin and fruit – and sweet German wine on every table. We were all turned out in our class A dress uniforms and were on our best behavior. The soldiers’ wives and children came on base for that repast and even some of the Germans from that little village called Illesheim. The base commander, a colonel who always wore a big pistol on his side, didn’t wear it that day. He made a toast; one of the chaplains said a prayer. Then we all tucked into one of the finest meals I’ve ever had, even though the dressing was made with white bread rather than cornbread (the cooks were obviously Yankees). I still have the little printed menu somewhere.
The following year I had mustered out and gotten myself back into college, and an army buddy from northern Arkansas, who had been in my platoon in Germany, drove down to Oakwood to share Thanksgiving with my dad, my sisters, and me. My mother had died in January, so it was something of a sad occasion. But my friend being there was a blessing. As was the Cowboys-Redskins game that afternoon. When an untested backup quarterback named Clint Longley came in for the injured Roger Staubach and sailed a fifty yard pass to Drew Pearson to win the game in the final minutes.
As time went by, and the years stacked up, Thanksgivings became as much cradles of memories as current events.
Nowadays, when I sit down for that big dinner, I always sense the presence of more people than are actually there. Like my parents, grandparents, all my uncles and aunts, and good friends who have passed away.
And I’ll bet that’s the way it is with your gathering, too.
So today, when you sit down to eat more than you should, take a good, long look around the table and be thankful – to whoever or whatever you choose to be thankful to – for all the people there. Even the ones that exist only in the sweet country of your memory.
Because memory, I’ve come to realize, is one of the richest blessings of all. Even if it lies occasionally.
You have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And eat a second piece of pie.
This was first a newspaper column a decade ago then was a chapter in a book titled Sundays with Ron Rozelle published by Texas Christian University Press.