Jewell: Giving thanks for everything
Updated Nov 23, 2015 at 11:31 PM
It was a tough being good for that long. I usually didn’t make it. The threat of receiving “ashes and switches” was real. I confess, now a safe distance away from such potential tragedies, I probably deserved the ashes and switches several Christmases.
Christmas wasn’t on our radar at Thanksgiving. Last year, I wrote of our trips to Rockwood where Thanksgiving was in the Victorian home of “Mama Orr,” our cousins’ grandmother who adopted us. Other Thanksgivings were in Chattanooga, Red Bank actually, where Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr would put on a feast.
Yet the preponderance of our Thanksgivings were on Castle Heights Avenue.
The women bustled about the narrow kitchen with pots and pans clanging. Each of the Prichard sisters scurried about with our grandmother watching to determine when a task should be done better, her way.
The grownups ate at the dining room table. The children were shuffled off to a small table in the kitchen. The best china and crystal were on display. Each sister contributed her own special dishes. One made fruit salad; one made cranberry relish; each had pies. My uncle demanded my mother make her prune cake. The turkey was baked in the oven. The dressing and the gravy remain the best ever, at least in my mind.
With the desserts, the coup de gras for the children and the men was boiled custard. Each sister made their own variety, believing their particular version was the best. Now they are all gone, I can admit my mother’s was the best. Thankfully, my sister and my younger daughter can produce boiled custard that is similar to my mother’s.
The men would praise the boiled custard, but delighted in “flavoring” it.
We were old school Methodists. Booze was not allowed in our house…except for a small half pint secreted way back in a cupboard that never saw the light of day unless the men needed to flavor their boiled custard. The bourbon was decanted into a small crystal pitcher that held maybe a half-cup.
All of the men would pour several drops of the magic elixir into their custard. The women and children would use vanilla for flavoring. Around ten-years old, I asked to flavor my boiled custard with what the men used.
My worry about ashes and switches started early that year.
Everyone ate too much.
The weather always was the same: cold, dry, crisp, and sunny. It was still okay to play outside. Every year, I would wish for snow. After all, in McClain Elementary School, we sang about going to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods in a sleigh. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.
Thanksgiving was a magical day, unfettered by early Christmas commercials. Black Friday, blissfully, did not exist.
There was one pro football game on the black and white television. On the radio, I could listen to Tennessee play Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee play Tennessee Tech, but that was the extent of sports.
And before the big meal, with the sun streaming through the dining room windows, we would give thanks.
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This year is yet another variation for us in the Southwest corner. I will smoke the turkey and Maureen will serve a fabulous meal, ending with pear pie, a family tradition. Maureen’s older sister, Patsy, her son Bill and daughter-in-law Laura will join us, a relative small event.
Sometime, probably after the meal, I plan to climb to the top of my hill and look over the place I’ve adopted as my other home. I will give thanks as those first new 53 settlers and the 90 Wampanoag tribe members, who preceded the Pilgrims by thousands of years, gave thanks and shared a feast together.
We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I just hope the future includes boiled custard, hopefully with a dab of flavoring.
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is [email protected].