Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 25, 2007


Thanksgiving memories are both precious and painful

        Thanksgiving memories are a mixed bag for most of us. Some are precious and some are painful. But life is like that and the challenge is to focus on our blessings instead of our problems. Somehow we must not allow yesterday’s pain to rob us of today’s joy.
        My family was not wealthy. I was born on a farm when times were hard. My dad raised cows and hogs, grew cotton and corn, and always had a vegetable garden.  I learned growing up that I had been born during the "depression.” But I never thought of myself or our family as poor.
        Because of dad’s garden there was always food on the table even when there was no money. My siblings – three sisters and a brother – and I ate at a table that my dad built with his own hands. It was sturdy and big enough for the seven of us.

I still have that table. Recently my son Tim helped me put a new top on it. The legs need to be replaced but the table is still serviceable. I feel a strange sadness for families who raise children without eating together at a table. Back then there were no TV trays since there was no TV. I know things change, but I believe there is still value in sitting around the supper table together. It helps children feel they belong.
        My siblings and I experienced accountability at suppertime. When my parents asked how things went at school, one of my sisters might pipe up and say, "Just fine, except I heard that Walter Junior (that was me) got a whipping by the principal today." My sisters had such good memories; I don’t think they ever forgot to report to my misdeeds to mom and dad. 
        After supper my dad would take me out back to the wood shed. There he would remove his broad, black belt and give me a few licks. It was his way of encouraging better behavior at school.       

O. M. Bratten, the principal, used a wooden paddle as his “board of education.” He made a naughty student bend over a chair in his office. Then he would whack the rear end three times. To get a whipping at school was no dishonor to us boys. The only dishonorable thing was to cry, so we tried awfully hard to grit out teeth and convince ourselves that it did not hurt. We compounded our sin by lying, insisting to our friends that the whipping did not hurt.
        After a paddling we were required to sit under the big clock in the school office. That was humiliating because everyone who came in and out of the office knew exactly why we were there.
        The board was actually nothing compared to my dad’s leather belt. There was no contest; that black belt left whelps on me that stayed sore for days. Does that mean that my dad had less compassion than the principal? I don’t know. I do know that I never got a whipping I did not deserve. And I honestly believe the punishment caused me to change my behavior and pay more attention to the rules.
         Let’s get back to mamma’s table. Mamma loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. She loved to serve a sumptuous meal especially on Thanksgiving Day. The bigger the crowd, the more she loved it. I can still see the bountiful feast she prepared, with turkey and ham, and always one of her specialties – toasted pecans.   
        Mamma always prepared pumpkin pie and potato pie. She fixed both for one reason: my brother liked potato pie more than pumpkin pie. The rest of us could eat two or three pieces of mamma’s pumpkin pie, every slice decorated with whipped cream. It was not Cool Whip either; she whipped the cream herself.

But pie was not enough. Mamma never failed to serve ambrosia for dessert also. For the uninitiated, ambrosia is orange slices covered with shredded coconut, topped off with a cherry. Always tasty! 
        There was turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce, along with a plate of ham. The vegetables were from daddy’s garden and he never failed to remind us that he had grown the food himself. My parents believed in canning so we had an endless supply of lima beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, black-eyed peas, potatoes, onions, and green beans. Mamma and daddy took great pride in always having food on the table. Nothing pleased them more than to have their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren come home for a Thanksgiving meal.
        After lunch there was for many years the family ritual of covering mamma’s green house with a thick plastic sheeting. I can still see my four sons climbing up on the roof, with some of their cousins, to pull that sheeting over the fragile glass roof. Dad had a gas furnace inside the green house so he and mamma could take care of their flowers through the winter.
        The old green house was bull-dozed down after mamma and daddy died. It was just as well. Most of the windows were broken and it had not been used for five or six years. Dad was so proud of having built that green house for mamma. She loved to grow flowers, and she loved to give flowers to people.   

Though mamma and daddy are gone now, and the old green house is no more, some wonderful memories remain. There are painful memories too – of broken relationships, broken families, and broken hearts. But I refuse to let these memories cloud my day or make me forget my precious Thanksgiving memories.   
        Thursday about 50 members of our family and some friends gathered again at the old home place. It is not the same. Our son Steve and his wife Amy remodeled it into an even more beautiful home. My wife and I did sit at a table in the same room where daddy’s table once sat. We laughed and talked and shared precious members with my sisters Neva and Margie and cousins, Will and Gayle.

Painful memories were repressed, put aside for another day. Thanksgiving Day is a time for savoring precious memories and giving thanks that though life is indeed difficult, it is also good. + + +