Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a time for food, family and friends. Abraham Lincoln declared it as the third Federal Holiday in 1863 during the middle of the Civil War. Washington’s Birthday and the 4th of July were the only two Federal holidays then and people wanted a third holiday to balance out the year. Christmas did not become a Federal holiday until 1870. FDR made Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday of November to increase Christmas shopping.
Christmas is still more about shopping and getting gifts unfortunately while Washington’s Birthday has disappeared into President’s Day. Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks and beer drinking. Memorial Day was always the Indy 500 for me until they moved that to the weekend. Labor Day is a three day weekend to most people. I love the honesty of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of Veteran’s Day but few celebrate it and shouldn’t we should honor our fallen soldiers every day?
So I look forward to Thanksgiving every year. Little girls grow up into women and wives and still expect to go home to their parents every Christmas. But Thanksgiving is the holiday where things are evened up by letting us boys and husbands go home to our parents.
I grew up when everybody still lived close by and Thanksgiving was always at our house on Bear Creek. Mom had three younger brothers, Chris, Tommy and Paul Owen who always came with their families and my grandparents would also be there and maybe another relative or two. Mom & Dad made the turkey, the dressing, Mom’s grape salad and a few pies and other dishes while everyone else brought a dish or two.
The ‘wet’ dressing was made from stale bread, celery, eggs, chicken stock and lots of sage, pepper and salt and stuffed first inside the turkey and then all around the turkey in the pan in which it was baked. Dad would always taste the dressing a time or two with a spoon and say, “Doris, I think it needs another egg (or more sage or salt).” That would be added and the routine repeated until he was satisfied it would be okay. And it always was.
The food was laid out on the counters and card tables set up in the living room and the downstairs bedroom so everyone could sit down to eat. This was a time when the men lined up and went through the line first after any of the older people who needed help or extra time. Us children followed or lead if we could and the women were last and ate in the kitchen.
I always took some of everything and like everyone, needed sideboards on my plate to hold the food. Nothing was ever left on the plate even though seconds were usually taken. Everyone seemed to be a good cook. After dinner was a time to take a nap and watch the Packers, Lions or Cowboys play football on the TV. Except there was another ritual that sticks in my mind.
Tommy was the funny one who was always joking and would be the first to say, “Well, are you ready to go rabbit hunting?”
Thanksgiving always seemed to be cold with a dusting of snow on the ground. We had two beagle ‘rabbit dogs’ named Soukey and Comet. The regulars were always my grandfather Tom Minto who I called “Pa” which rhymes with Baa, my three uncles, my dad, Kenneth and maybe another guest or two. It didn’t matter since I don’t remember ever killing many rabbits. I was the youngest and would climb atop brush piles and jump up and down to scare a rabbit out which surprisingly often worked.
“Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” was the sound that would make us all jump and then turn for a shot at the quail that we had just jumped. Tommy the joker had perfect timing and could imitate a covey of quail all jumping into the air at once better than an actual covey. I remember lots of shots but never a dead quail on the few times it was a real and not Tommy. Quail like the rabbits were never safer than when this group of hunters were in the field. But it was about friends, family and food and that made all the difference.
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Your Farmer & Agrarian Philosopher Jim