Tales of Thanksgivings Past Bring Families Closer
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.
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.
Great-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.