I miss my childhood Thanksgivings. So for just a moment I am going to play the part of the ghost of Thanksgiving past and take you back to that place in time. That special place in my life that I will never be able to get back, yet I can hold onto in my memory. I know I have cousins who go there, in their memory, every Thanksgiving, too. They’ve told me. They’ve told me from a different perspective. They said they would excitedly wait for me and my family to come up. They had missed me, just as I had missed them. So here we go, back in time…
It was so early when I the light came on, shining bright in my twelve year old eyes.
“Up and at em,” said Daddy.
I could hear my mom in the background, “Don’t forget your pillows! I know you. You’ll want to sleep in the car.”
I grunted as I sat up and looked around the room. It was clean. My mom always made us clean the house before we traveled to visit our huge family that lived six hours away. I asked her one time why I had to clean before we traveled. She said she didn’t like coming home to a messy house. That didn’t make any sense to me then, but as an adult, I find myself doing the same thing. I laugh a bit as I write this.
I climbed out of bed and got dressed. Once I’m up, I’m up. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach as the excitement built. “I can’t wait to see my cousins!” I thought. I brushed my teeth, grabbed a poptart and climbed in the car. It was packed and ready to go. I had my pillow with me and my little brother in the backseat. We fought on and off for six hours, as we always did. Mom’s arm flailed in the air in the backseat as we ducked and prayed she’d miss. Sometimes she got me though. We would play the alphabet game. That’s where one of you sees the letter ‘a’ on a sign or something and you call it out. It would get challenging on certain letters like ‘x’ or ‘v’. That’s when you would pray for other cars to show up on the road so you could look at their license plates in hopes for your letter. I loved playing that game.
I knew we were getting close when the car started to jostle on the dirt road. I’d see grandma’s filthy outdoor dog, Sam. He was a farm dog. He was a good dog. He loved being outside. He would chase the car all the way to Gran’s house. I’m not sure when we started calling her Gran but that name held so much love for me. I loved my Gran so much. I loved her hugs, her cooking, the quilts she made, her home, the sound of her voice saying my name, even when I was in trouble. I loved the love her eyes held when she would look at you. A room full of people, up to eighty one time, and you were all she saw in that moment. You knew you were loved when you spent time with Gran.
I excitedly looked to see how many cars were there. How many of my cousins would be there? Did they miss me, too? What adventures would we have? What trouble would we get into? How many fights would there be and over what? Most of my cousins were boys and that worked out well for me, as I was a tomboy. The minute the car stopped I hopped out and headed to the house, only to hear both of my parents call my name and order me back to the car to get my own suitcase.
I grunted, but did as I was told. Stopping only to scratch Sam behind his ears. He licked my arm and ran off. As I walked into the trailer house I could smell the food cooking. Tomorrow would be Thanksgiving and that’s when ALL the family would arrive. Each would bring their best homemade dish. I saw Gran and ran over to her, receiving the warmest, best hug. She told me to put my things in my room. She lived in a trailer that was connected by a small trailer and then another long trailer. It formed a capital letter ‘L’. My room was in the very very very back. The last part of the trailers. I would walk past a big refrigerator and a big freezer, near a bed. Then turn down the last part of the ‘L’ and go through a huge closet, then two more small rooms until I found myself in the last room. She had the bed made up. The room was so small that the bed was against the wall on three sides. She kept a little radio in there and there was one small light on a small dresser and a door that led outside. The little trailer windows were covered in frost. There was snow on the ground just outside them. It was freezing in the little room so I turned on the small heater that was plugged into the wall. I couldn’t wait to climb under the freezing cold sheets and quilts later. It always took a while, but I would eventually get toasty warm. I loved the quilts she made. I still have several, even today. I treasure them. I miss my Gran.
It wasn’t long before a handful of my cousins that lived nearby would whisk me away on adventures untold. But the real excitement was the next day.
I woke up in my warm bed in my cold room. I could smell coffee and bacon. Gran was always up before all of us and cooking. I didn’t want to leave my warm bed but then I remembered she was making chocolate gravy! I hadn’t had that in ages! I got up right quick with that thought and headed into the kitchen, barefoot and in my pajamas.
“Mornin’,” she said then smiled.
“Did you make chocolate gravy yet?”
“I’m fixin’ to. You wanna help?”
I nodded. She had me get out one cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of cocoa, tablespoon of flour and vanilla extract. I watched her put it all in the saucepan, cover it with water and start stirring with a wooden spoon. That quickly became my job. I remember thinking my arm hurt from stirring. I didn’t realize cooking was so much work. It gave me a new appreciation for all food that would be presented in a few hours. She had homemade biscuits but I didn’t like biscuits so she also had white bread for me. I broke it up and placed it on top of my chocolate gravy. I loved the taste, the texture and the aroma. So very good and I missed it! It was too rich to eat too many bowls of it but I always tried to eat two. A bit greedy I suppose.
I could hear the cars pull up on the gravel, snow and sludge outside.
My heart raced as I peered out the window. My cousins! A couple here and a couple there, finally my main group that I ran with were all assembled. All boys. After we ate we would walk across fields and silos until we got the huge house that my uncle built. We would play outside and have to take our shoes off when we came in. Sludge and white carpet do not mix.
We would play in the attic bedroom that two of the boys shared. We could hear the grown ups in the music room downstairs playing gospel music. We could feel the vibration of the drum beat. We could hear them singing. Looking back, I wish I could have appreciated how special it was. I just never knew how much I would miss it one day. But back then, we thought it was boring. We had to hear those songs at church and we were always at church. There was always some function or revival. Couldn’t they play something modern? So in our boredom we would find other things to do. We would listen to Elvis albums and hear my cousin do a spot on Elvis impersonation. We would play dangerous games that should never be played. Like, let’s take our aunt and uncles perfume and cologne bottles and turn out the lights. Now let’s try to find each other and spray each other in the dark. It was all fun and games until someone got sprayed in the eyes. He screamed out in pain and we all tried to shush him thinking the tears would wash it out. But the music stopped, as did the crying. You could hear a pin drop between the thuds of my uncles feet on the stairs as he climbed to the room. He didn’t even ask questions. He just lined us up and swatted our asses and said to behave. He took all the perfume bottles and cologne bottles, glared at us one last time and left. We all rubbed our backsides and glared at the one who cried. He sheepishly wiped his red eyes and asked if we wanted to go back to Grans for dessert. We did. So off we went in the darkness back past the silos, the high school, the park and wait…what was that? A sewage drain thing.
The boys ran over to it. It looked like a drain ditch, but it had sewage in it. I had never seen one of those. Then the boys decided to dare each other to jump across it. I couldn’t let them outdo me. I had to prove that girls could do anything boys could do. Problem was, they had on normal coats. I had on a long, girly, dress coat. They all made it. I got tangled up in my coat. As we walked in the door, the grownups who stayed behind instead of going to my uncles for the music, all held their noses and yelled, “What is that smell?” The boys all laughed and pointed to me. My Gran ran me off to the bathroom. She took my coat and clothes to wash them and made me take a shower, immediately. She left me my flannel nightgown. I took my shower. When I got out, I was freezing, so I did my favorite thing. The heat came into the trailer through a vents on the floor. I put on my nightgown and sat on top of the vent. I sealed my gown to the ground with my butt and my feet, then my hands on the sides. The heat came on and my gown filled up like a hot air balloon. Ahhhhhhhh, the warmth was wonderful.
I heard the boys asking if I was done yet. I came out and ran to my room. It was freezing in that place. I climbed under the quilts and shivered. The boys all came in and piled on the bed with me. They helped keep me warm. I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose but I welcomed it anyway. We turned on the radio and the country music was gone. It was Thanksgiving night and that meant the Christmas music started. We listened to Bing Crosby as we watched out the windows. It began to snow. We told ghost stories about great grandpa’s ghost making the rocking chair rock in the next room. Sometimes it actually would rock. We didn’t know if it was the older kids playing a trick on us or if it was really Great Grandpa. Either way it didn’t matter. We were happy and we were close and we were together.
I miss those times and I miss those loved ones. But as I sit and reflect, I still feel the warmth. The warmth of the heater, the warmth of my bed, and the warmth of the love that we shared.