Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
November 19, 2000
I enjoy running into people who reply, "I canít complain," when I ask how they are doing.
That comment tells me that they have made a choice; they could complain but they have chosen
not to. Obviously they prefer the positive to the negative.
When it comes to Thanksgiving memories, both positive and negative ones come to mind, as must be true with most of us. So as we approach another Thanksgiving I choose to ignore all my painful memories and share with you the ones I treasure.
My parents were not wealthy. We hardly knew where the blue bloods lived. Times were hard when I was born on the farm where my dad raised cows and hogs, and grew cotton and corn. I would learn later that I had been born during the "depression years." Even so I never thought of myself as being poor.
Because my dad always had a big garden there was always food on the table even when there was no money in our pockets. My three sisters, my brother, and I ate at a table which my dad built with his own hands. It was sturdy and big enough for the seven of us. Today I feel pity for the families who raise children without eating together at a table. Back then, of course, there were no TV trays since there was no TV. And things change, but I believe it was better when families could enjoy sitting around the supper table together.
For one thing we experienced accountability at suppertime. When my parents asked how things went at school, one of my sisters might pipe up and say, "Just fine, except I heard that Walter Junior (that was me) got a whipping by the principal today." My sisters had such good memories; I donít think they ever forgot to report to my parents on my misdeeds.
After supper my dad would take me out back to the wood shed. There he would remove his broad, black belt and give me a few more licks. It was his way of encouraging me to improve my behavior at school. Of course my sisters never got a whipping at school, or so they maintain even to this day.
The principal used a wooden paddle for his dirty work. He would make us bend over a chair in his office. Then he would whack us three times. To get a whipping at school was no dishonor to us boys. The only dishonorable thing was to cry, so we tried awfully hard to grit out teeth and convince ourselves that it did not hurt.
After a paddling we had to sit under the big clock in the school office. That was worse than the beating because everyone who came in and out of the office knew exactly why we were there. I hated that humiliation more than the three licks.
In case you are interested, I can tell you which hurt worse, the board or the belt. There was no contest; that black belt left whelps on me that stayed sore for a week. Does that mean that my dad had less compassion than the principal? I donít know. It may just mean that my dad was stronger and more determined to get my attention.
But back to mammaís table. Mamma loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. She loved to fix up a "log rolling" of a meal especially on Thanksgiving Day. I can still see the bountiful table she would set with some things on it I seldom see anymore. Always she served toasted pecans which were usually provided by our own pecan trees.
Mamma always fixed pumpkin pie and potato pie. She fixed both for one reason: my brother liked potato pie and did not like pumpkin pie. The rest of us could eat two or three pieces of mammaís pumpkin pie, every slice of which was decorated with a spoonful of whipped cream. That was not Cool Whip either; she whipped the cream herself. But besides the pie, mamma never missed serving ambrosia for dessert also. For the uninitiated, ambrosia is orange slices covered with shredded coconut, topped off with a cherry. Good is not the word for it!
There was the usual turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce, along with a plate of ham. The vegetables were usually from daddyís garden and he never ceased to remind us that he had grown most of the food in his own garden. Because my parents believed in canning, we had what seemed an endless supply of lima beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, black-eyed peas, potatoes, onions, and green beans. They took great pride in the hard work necessary to always have food on the table. And nothing pleased my parents more than to have their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren come home for a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal.
After lunch there was for many years the family ritual of covering mammaís green house with a thick plastic sheeting. I can still see my four sons climbing up on the roof, with some of their cousins, to pull that sheeting over the fragile glass roof. Dad had a gas furnace inside the green house so he and mamma could take care of their many flowers through the winter.
That old green house was bull-dozed down this fall and its remains were covered over in a deep hole in the ground. It was just as well. Most of the windows were broken and it had not been used for five or six years, since mamma died. Dad was so proud of having built that green house for mamma. She loved to grow flowers, and she loved to give flowers to people. In every place we ever lived we had some flowers from mammaís garden.
Though mamma and daddy are gone now, and the old green house is no more, I still have some wonderful memories left. About the bad memories, I choose not to complain. But I must tell you that Thanksgiving memories are some of the best ones that remain in the heart of this grateful son.
Thursday the mamma of our four sons will continue the tradition of fixing a big meal for her family on Turkey Day. And hopefully years from now at least a few of our clan will have some treasured memories they can share with their children as they remember Thanksgiving days at mammaís house.