Thanksgiving memories—how they linger

Thanksgiving—it’s my favorite holiday.

When I was growing up—in the South Carolina boonies—Thanksgiving marked the first real break we had from the confinement of school—two days of unfettered joy, plus the usual weekend.

Thanksgiving also marked opening day of hunting season. We were usually out early, often while frost still sparkled from the broomsedge in the fields around our house. We typically didn’t have to wait long until the beagles had a rabbit on the move, their full-throated baying keeping us informed of their whereabouts and an indication of where to wait for the unsuspecting cottontail to break cover and expose himself to the lethal force of a .410 shotgun. We missed more than we hit, so we never depleted the population much, but I still recall the excitement of the chase and, on occasion, the treat of fried rabbit.

A few years later we had a bird dog and found that a quail on the wing is even harder to hit than a rabbit at top speed. But they taste even better and the thrill of a covey of a dozen or more quail bursting cover with a sudden bbbrrrppp as they made a dash for the nearest hedgerow always got my heart pumping a bit faster.

Dinner was usually around noon because Daddy often had to work, even on Thanksgiving. The cotton mill was a hard task master. Sometimes we had turkey; sometimes we had a roasted chicken. We always had sweet potato and mincemeat pies. I always ate too much.

One year, before I ever started school I think, we had a live turkey that Daddy dispatched the day before Thanksgiving. They saved the feathers and my artistic Aunt Trudy made Indian headdresses out of them and gave them to us for Christmas. I’ve seen photos of us wearing turkey-feathered head ornaments but not for several years. If there is justice in the world, those photos and the negatives from which they were printed have yellowed and cracked with age and neglect and are lost forever. The memory, however, is a pleasant one.

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I haven’t hunted in years and probably couldn’t work out the proper angle through bifocals to be much of a shot at a rabbit or quail and those turkey feathers have long deteriorated, thankfully. I’ve eaten a lot of turkey and a lot of pies and took a lot of after-dinner naps following Thanksgiving meals. But those early memories of Thanksgiving in our small house in Anderson County, South Carolina, remain a big reason why this is my favorite holiday.

I know, Christmas is the ultimate celebration for Christian faiths and its overarching theme of “peace on Earth, goodwill to men” should touch people of all faiths who believe in a power greater and better than they are. But Christmas also marks the pinnacle of the marketing year with blatant commercialization beginning earlier and earlier every year. Advertisements tempt us—successfully— to over-spend, over-indulge and over-stress.

Christmas is hectic and the message is lost in the chaos that is part and parcel of our annual spending spree.

Thanksgiving is commercialized enough and serves as the official jumping off point for the bedlam to come. But it’s less stressful, less traumatic and less likely to result in depression and overwhelming debt. And perhaps, for just a little while, it reminds us to be thankful for what we have—a turkey, a chicken, a day in the woods with your dad, a slice of your mom’s sweet potato pie—even the thoughtfulness of an aunt who finds a unique way to recycle some turkey feathers.

Finally, as you give thanks this year for what you have, please remember the small and shrinking number of hard-working farmers who raise the turkeys, the potatoes, and the vegetables on your table.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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