CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thanksgiving is more than a day to get together and share a bountiful meal. It is composed of Thanksgivings past and loved ones of long ago. It is connected by a thread of love that winds down through the years, anchoring us to the past and holding us today.
Sweet memories come and go.
There were once 11 of us who sat at around our Thanksgiving table -- four little blonde girls, three little tow-headed boys, an old grandpa, a cousin who lived with us, and Mom and Daddy. The memory burns vividly in my heart. I can see the old homemade table and the rough bench behind it. The table is covered with red-checked oil cloth, and the children are crowded on the bench like peas in a pod.
Mom, with her cheeks flushed from the heat of the oven, brings in the roasted chickens, brown and juicy. (Turkey was unheard of then -- in our family anyway.) The gas Servel refrigerator in the corner holds the red Jello, crammed full of fruit. There is a coconut cake and several pies resting in the wooden cupboard in the kitchen.
The table was overflowing with food -- fluffy mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, homemade cranberry sauce, green beans, tossed salad, corn, potato salad, hot rolls, and the best dressing I ever ate. The children held their breath as Daddy asked the blessing -- a fervent prayer of thanksgiving and a plea to God to bless and keep his family in the hollow of His hand.
As soon as the "amen" sounded, we piled into the food. Daddy held the baby on his lap and fed her. (I can hear him saying, "Keep your hands out of my plate!") Grandpa, chewing vigorously with his toothless gums would tell Mom, "Fetch up some more bread!" I know now why Mom ate last -- she waited on the table. Mothers do that. Love surrounded our table and burned brightly in each heart.
Bittersweet memories! Two of the little blonde boys live only in my memory now, and Mom, Daddy, Grandpa and Cousin Leo are gone also.
Time rolled on relentlessly.
Criss and I are married now, and I am cooking our first Thanksgiving dinner. The day before, I made pumpkin pies and a coconut cake. (Do we always do what our mothers did?) The next morning I stuffed and roasted a chicken, and fixed the rest of the meal. Criss sat down and was finished eating in 15 minutes. I cried.
He was shocked and asked, "What's the matter, honey?" I blubbered, "I spent a day and half fixing this meal and you ate it in 15 minutes!" He tried to explain that he enjoyed it as much as if he'd eaten for an hour. I was not very mollified.
Then there was that unmatched Thanksgiving at the old Jackson County farm, when I roasted a turkey in the wood cook stove. It was a warm Indian summer day with colorful leaves falling on the two-story farmhouse, and the kids ate their dinner on the huge woodbox that sat on the long front porch. It was right before Mary Ellen and Howard were married, and we were all together then. What blessings the Lord bestowed upon us! We didn't realize then how rich we were!
One Thanksgiving Day I spent in the hospital with a new baby boy. Criss and the other children ate with his sister Ruth, and it was a lonely day indeed. Patty had ordered a baby sister -- she had three brothers -- and this was before ultrasound tests. I found a letter she had written to me while I was in the hospital just the other day. She wrote, "Grandma thinks I'm disappointed because he is a boy, but I'm not." She took baby Matthew over and was a little mother to him. We thank God for that Thanksgiving blessing.
There were some Thanksgivings that were not so joyous. Daddy had suffered a massive stroke, and was in Pine Lodge Nursing Home at Beckley. I took Mom, Matthew and Crystal to visit him that day, and told them we'd have a nice meal at a restaurant. To our disappointment, we couldn't find a restaurant that was open. We stopped at a service station and bought some pre-made sandwiches and lunch cakes. It was a sad time.
The years roll on and on. ...Thanksgiving has evolved from a large family gathering at Mom's and Dad's, when we siblings gathered there with our little ones year after year. As our families grew larger, and the grandchildren appeared on the scene, we began staying at our own homes and cooking for them. Now that our children have grandchildren, they too cook at home for their large families.
Now life has turned a full circle. We are back to just the two of us. (Actually four, if you count the little Jack Russell dogs, Minnie and Chloe.) Looking back, we can see how the Lord has blessed us down through the years. He has kept us through the good times and through times that weren't so good.
The Lord has blessed us with six children, 22 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. Some of them are steps, but they count too. We are in the evening time of life, and appreciate each day that the Lord grants to us.
This an old Thanksgiving hymn that is familiar to most of us, though it is still relevant in our modern day.
We Gather Together
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to His name: He forgets not His own.
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we are winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side, All glory be thine!
We all do extol Thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou our defender will be,
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation,
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free.
-- Translated by Theodore Baker
May God's richest blessings surround each of you, and may thankfulness in each of your hearts be given to Him.
I am now mailing books for Christmas giving. Books available are: "This Holler is My Home," "Homesick for the Hills," and "Laughter from the Hills." They are $15.33 each (which includes tax and postage) or three for $40. I will autograph them as you wish. Write to Alyce Faye Bragg at 2556 Ovapa Road, Ovapa, WV 25164 or email alycef...@citlink.net.