Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
November 23, 2008


Thanksgiving memories are better than turkey and dressing

        The song says, “Precious memories, how they linger.” They do linger and they do stir the soul. And some of my most precious memories have to do with the observance of Thanksgiving.  

I grew up on a farm in Elmore County, Alabama. Wetumpka was our town but it was 12 miles away. We went there to school on week days, to the picture show on Saturdays, and to church on Sundays.

My parents were not wealthy. Times were hard in 1932 when I was born. Those were the depression years. Daddy raised cows and hogs, and grew cotton and corn. One year he made a little money; the next year he lost his shirt. Even so I never remember thinking that I was a poor boy.

There was always food on the table. Daddy and Mama raised most of our food in a big garden. Daddy never had a small garden. We raised chickens, ducks, and rabbits. Once or twice a year Daddy butchered a calf and a hog or two. We were never hungry even when we did not have two nickels to rub together.

There were five of us children – three girls and two boys. I was the oldest, my brother the youngest. We ate at a sturdy table that my dad built. He was a Jack of All Trades. Like many of his time he did most things himself, learning by trial and error.

The table was a big part of our lives. We had no idea then what a blessing it was to eat and talk together as a family. There were no TV trays since there was no television. At the table we were family. 

We 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 parents on my misdeeds.

After supper Daddy would take me out back to the wood shed. There he would remove his broad, black belt and give me a few more licks. It was his way of encouraging me to improve my behavior at school. Of course my sisters never got a whipping at school, or so they maintain even to this day. If my brother did, he is not telling.

The principal used a wooden paddle for his “teaching.” He would make us bad boys bend over a chair in his office. Then he would whack us three times. To get a whipping at school was no dishonor to us boys. The only dishonorable thing was to cry, so we tried hard to grit out teeth and take it like a man. 

After a whipping we had to sit under the big clock in the school office. That was worse than the beating because everyone who came in and out of the office knew exactly why we were there. I hated that humiliation more than the three licks.

Did the paddle hurt worse than Daddy’s belt? It was no contest; that black belt left whelps on me that stayed sore for a week. Does that mean that my dad had less compassion than the principal? I don’t know. It may just mean that my dad was stronger and more determined to get my attention.

But back to the table. Mama loved Thanksgiving.  She loved to prepare a "log rolling" of a meal on Thanksgiving Day. I can still see the bountiful table she would set with some things on it I seldom see anymore. Always she served toasted pecans which some years came from our own pecan trees.

Mama baked pumpkin pies and sweet potato pies. She fixed both because my brother liked potato pie and did not like pumpkin pie. The rest of us could eat two or three pieces of mama’s pumpkin pie, every slice of which was decorated with a spoonful of whipped cream. That was not Cool Whip either; she whipped the cream herself.  Pie was not enough for dessert. Mama always served ambrosia for dessert also. For the uninitiated, ambrosia is orange slices covered with shredded coconut, topped off with a cherry.

There was the usual turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce, along with a plate of ham. The vegetables were usually from daddy’s garden and he never ceased to remind us that he had grown most of the food in his own garden. Because my parents believed in canning, we had an endless supply of butter beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, black-eyed peas, potatoes, onions, and green beans.

My parents took great pride in the hard work necessary to always have food on the table. And nothing pleased them more than to have their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren come home for a sumptuous 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 the sheeting over the fragile glass roof. Daddy had a gas furnace inside the green house so he and mama could take care of their many flowers through the winter.

The old green house was bull-dozed down a few years back. It was just as well. Most of the windows were broken and it had not been used since mama died. Daddy was so proud of having built that green house for mama. She loved to grow flowers, and she loved to give flowers to people.

Daddy and mama are gone now, but I still have some wonderful memories of those Thanksgiving Days when the family gathered. Those memories remind me that I was loved by parents who taught me the meaning of family.

Thursday some of our family will gather at the old home place, now owned by our youngest son Steve and his wife Amy. We may not have any ambrosia but a precious family tradition will continue. Hopefully years from now a few of our clan will have some precious memories they can share with their children as they remember Thanksgiving. I hope so because mine are very precious. + + +