Tales of Thanksgivings Past Bring Families Closer


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The stories we share around the Thanksgiving table have the power to bring us together, especially when the storyteller is grandpa, grandma, mom or dad. They may tell of life long ago, when life was difficult or of happier times, or they may simply reveal those who mattered to us. They speak of resilience. These memories feed our spirits, make us laugh and bring perspective to the family table. Here are some special memories shared by Triangle grandparents.

Life Lessons at the Thanksgiving Table

On Thanksgiving, we visited both sets of grandparents, who lived in town. All my grandparents came from Greece, so we had a Greek influence on our meal, but they embraced living in America and wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving.

One grandfather cooked the turkey, always carving it in the kitchen. So the grandchildren would hang around him, and he would sneak turkey to us like little puppies. My grandmothers always let us help set the table and fill the water glasses. And it didn’t matter if we did it wrong. They would tell us how to do it correctly, but if the fork or knife were not in the right place, they would never fix it. I remember them not being critical, which I try very hard to do with my own grandchildren. At the kids’ table, my grandmother always made sure we had our own serving bowls. They made us feel very special. After we had eaten, we would play under the adult table and the grownups would have to guess which one of us was there at their feet.

Patti Neptun is a retired Wake County Public School System kindergarten teacher who lives in Apex with her husband, Doug. They have two daughters who live in Alaska and Florida and six grandchildren, ages 7, 6, 5, 3, 2 and 1.

Amid the Trees in Western N.C.

In my hometown in western North Carolina, it was usually cold by Thanksgiving, but in 1956 it was unseasonably warm. And this year Aunt Corrie was home, the only one of Grandmother’s 10 children who had moved further away than walking distance of the old homeplace. So we took Thanksgiving outdoors. Table after table of fried chicken, green beans, deviled eggs, coconut cake and so on under the oak trees still fighting to hold on to the last brown and yellow leaves.

I stood in the sandbox, at age 7, still small enough for that kind of joyful play, and I looked at all the uncles and aunts, all of the score and more of first cousins, and Grandmother. She stretched out her hand, pointing to the barnyard that was crowded with chickens around the pig pen, the small barn, the corncrib and the old outhouse next to the 1-acre garden.

She spoke: “All I need is a little bit of land and I can feed my family.”

And boy did we “feed” on that warm Thanksgiving Day.

Drew Bridges is the owner of The Storytellers Book Store of Wake Forest

Storytelling to Grow On

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a festive gathering of my extended family, and there were always plenty of stories.alan-family-shot.jpg

I remember my father telling of his experience working in the engine room of a Merchant Marine ship during World War II as it moved ever so slowly through mine-infested waters, and how he listened to the “tink tink tink” of the mines gently bumping against the hull of the ship as he wondered if one would explode.

My grandmother told of how she saved the life of a neighbor’s child by serving as a wet nurse when the child’s mother could not produce milk and there were no other resources to call upon.

There were also scary stories and funny ones, many of which could not be believed. Family stories helped me understand where I came from, where I was going and what I might become. It is now my joy to give this gift to my grandchildren.

Alan Hoal grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, among the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is a professional speaker, consultant and storyteller who lives in Cary with his wife, Carol. They have four grandchildren, and he looks forward to sharing family stories with the next generation. Learn more about him at thehoalstory.com. In this1950s photo courtesy of Alan Hoal, he is seated in the chair in front of his mother, who is holding his sister Laura on her lab. His brother Mike is on the left on his knees, and his cousins complete the photo. 

A Working Family Farm

I grew up on a small farm in Franklin County, just east of Louisburg, and as far as memories of Thanksgiving, I don’t have anything much to say, because when we had a holiday out of school in the fall of the year, we always had to work.

A day or two out of school, my two brothers and father, we would harvest corn and grain to feed the livestocks through the coming winter and springtime. And it’s not a big deal, but that was what any farm family had to do in that particular time.

We had a good life, but it was a simple way of living, but my two brothers and I had to do our part. As far as the Thanksgiving meal was concerned, I don’t ever remember us having turkey. My mother — she was a great cook — would cook baked chicken and dressing for the meal. At Thanksgiving, it was my two brothers, my dad and mom. And after my wife and I got married, she started cooking turkey and dressing and a Thanksgiving feast for the kids, and they still come and eat with us today.

Willis Cooke and his wife, Nancy, have two children and one grandchild. They live in Rolesville.

New York City Memories

Mostly, I remember Thanksgiving as another occasion for my mother to display her culinary skills. There was always something Jewish thrown in. Imagine turkey, fresh-killed of course, stuffed with kasha!

But the holiday I will never forget was 1945 when our soldiers were returning home from the war. A few days before Thanksgiving, my mother was in New York City shopping in S. Klein on the Square, a mecca for fashion and great prices. A radio personality was doing interviews with random persons on the street. The question was, “Who would you invite to your Thanksgiving table?’ Three out of the four said, “A soldier returning from the war.” Not my mother. She answered, “My family doctor because he is always there when we need him.”

I was thrilled to hear her voice on the radio — and her unique answer.

Madelon Sheff, who remembers her New York City childhood, is a retired literacy specialist and staff developer. Her favorite title is “Grandma Maddy,” given to her by the neighborhood kids, where she lives in Chapel Hill’s Southern Village.

sva85p01214091913390.jpgGreat-Grandmother Topsy’s Secret

Great-Grandmother Topsy was all brown skin and bones in a cotton dress. Her long silver hair sparkled in an intricate braid that coiled around her head like a crown. She sat in the big chair in the living room and commanded the kitchen like a general. She knew how to make the gravy just right, when to baste the turkey and the secret to the family recipe for banana pudding.

“Grandma Topsy?” I remember asking. “How come you know so much about cooking?”

“Because of my wisdom locks.” She told me, pointing to her silver crown.

“Will I ever have wisdom locks?” I asked.

“Yes, little one, but you have to wait. Wisdom takes time,” she answered.

My great-grandmother, as always, was right. Many years have passed and every year at Thanksgiving I notice that I have a few more wisdom locks.

Donna Washington has been a professional storyteller for 27 years. She is also a published author and award-winning spoken word recording artist. She lives in Durham with her husband, David, who is also her manager, their son, Devin, their daughter, Darith, and their cats Love Bug and Flash. Visit her at donnawashington.com. (Photo at right of Great-Grandma Topsy courtesy of Donna Washington)


Odile Fredericks is Carolina Parent’s web editor, and each year she looks forward to a large Thanksgiving family reunion and stories shared around the table.

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December 2019

Come by the Finley Center any time during the day to participate in a collaborative community art project celebrating what you are thankful for! Play a game of “Roll a Turkey” and take home...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Telephone: 919-676-6368
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
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Did you know bucks or male deer can grow a new set of antlers each year? Explore pelts, skulls, tracks, and scat of white-tailed deer through hands-on discovery stations. Then learn about the...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for everyone

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
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Telephone: 919-662-2854
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 919-996-8700
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Please join Admissions, Division Directors and our Head of School as they talk about Duke School’s unique program, specifically for incoming kindergarten through fourth grade students for the...

Cost: $0

Where:
Duke School
3716 Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Duke School
Telephone: 919-416-9420
Contact Name: Logan Blaylock

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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #127198.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Have you ever wondered what happens to our wildlife during the winter? They have a variety of adaptations to help them get through the cold months. Come explore some of their techniques then take a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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There are a lot of dangers in the woods for deer and rabbits! Read a story about these mammals and practice hiding from predators during a fun game, then make a deer-themed craft. For ages 3-5...

Cost: FREE. Registration is required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
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Telephone: 919-662-2850

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Design and create a keepsake apron with vibrant markers and other fun decorations. After completing your apron, enjoy baking and decorating your own individual cake. Ages 6-10. 

Cost: $35/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
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Come talk about books and eat pizza. No assigned reading prior to the meeting. Call or stop by to register: 919-245-2532.

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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Parents of children learn age-appropriate social skills for children ages 3-6. Register online by Nov. 28.

Cost: $22/person or $33/couple

Where:
Project Enlightenment
501 S. Boylan Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
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Please visit the Homeschoolers of Holly Springs 4th Annual Holiday Market Day. Student entrepreneurs will be showcasing their products while learning about running their own businesses. All...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Hope Community Church
2080 E Williams St
Apex, NC  27539
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As a Christmas gift to our community and surrounding area, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church delivers the true Christmas story in a stirring virtual “walk” through Bethlehem to the stable...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
12605 Capital Blvd
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Sponsor: Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
Telephone: 919-556-7777
Contact Name: Meghan Reynolds
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Want a fun arty Friday night activity for your teen? We've got the Teen Art Takeover just for them. Once a month we open up the community clay studio just for the 11-17 set. We have art...

Cost: $5 Resident/$6 nonresident

Where:
Chapel Hill Community Clay Studio
200 Plant Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Community Clay Studio and Chapel Hill Teen Center
Telephone: 919-968-2878
Contact Name: Robena Meek
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
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Join the three ensembles of the Cary Youth Voices for choral music. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church
110 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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On season 6 of American Idol, Melinda Doolittle stunned both the audience and the judges with her powerhouse vocals and her personal charm. She placed third in the voting, and has since gone on to...

Cost: $28 + taxes and fees

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The Clayton Center
111 E. Second Street
Clayton, NC  27520
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Meet at the Waterwise Garden (first parking lot on right) No preregistration required.Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends....

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-460-3355
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Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
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See award-winning houses from the Town of Cary's 9th Annual Gingerbread House Competition on display. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Telephone: 919-676-6368
Website »

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Ages 4-12 enjoy free arts and crafts. Registration not required. Children must have adult accompaniment. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Take your American Girl to enjoy crafts, games, tea etiquette and more. Registration required online. Ages 5-10. Choose course #127007 for the 11 a.m. tea or #127008 for the 1 p.m. tea. 

Cost: $21/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
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Get ready for the holidays with festive activities, shopping, a holiday concert at 5 p.m. and much more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Lafayette Village
8450 Honeycutt Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Make an angel out of polymer clay to hang on a tree. Register online. Choose course #127353.

Cost: $19/resident, $25/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Kick off your holiday season with horse-drawn carriage rides, hot apple cider, live music, handmade crafts, holiday activities, and a visit with Ol' Saint Nick.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Oak View County Park
4028 Carya Drive
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: Historic Oak View County Park
Telephone: 919-250-1013
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As a Christmas gift to our community and surrounding area, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church delivers the true Christmas story in a stirring virtual “walk” through Bethlehem to the stable...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
12605 Capital Blvd
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Sponsor: Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
Telephone: 919-556-7777
Contact Name: Meghan Reynolds
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Ages 3-12 and their fathers enjoy a night of dancing, light refreshments, photos and more. Registration required at Rolesville Community Center.

Cost: $25.00 per couple, non-resident $30.00 per couple, $10.00 per additional child

Where:
Rolesville Community Center
514 Southtown Circle
Rolesville, NC  27571
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Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

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