A southern Thanksgiving memory

Published 2:38 pm Friday, November 20, 2009

We’re going over the river and through the woods again this week, our destination a southern Thanksgiving in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Last week, we remembered Thanksgiving as celebrated by my Italian grandparents. This week it’s Southern style at the in-laws.

Here we go to Tuscaloosa for a Southern Thanksgiving as we celebrated this family event in the 1970s and ’80s. We don’t go there anymore, since Myrtie and Mac’s house and traditions now belong to the ages.

Email newsletter signup

Myrtie and Mac were deep-rooted Southerners, and their holiday table offerings were Alabama country traditional.

The family offspring included two brothers and three sisters. By about the mid ’70s, grandchildren totaled somewhere around 17. The cousin cadre grew each year, and the Thanksgiving family gathering together in its zenith could top 30 hungry stomachs.

If you remember the popular country TV days of Hee Haw, there was a segment when a chorus of folks would shout to Grandpa Jones, “Hey, Grandpa, what’s for dinner?” And Grandpa would reel off a host of mouth-watering southern dishes for the evening meal.

Then everyone would respond: Yum Yum!

My father-in-law expertly captured the role. Frequently when on the phone to him, I would say, “Hey Paw Paw, what’s for dinner?” and he would reel off the evening’s menu, with vivid descriptions of each dish. Paw Paw ate well.

At Thanksgiving, the dining room table wasn’t big enough for complete family sitting. So the senior family members got the seats. The cousins sat at the” kid’s table,” or the kitchen table. Any overflow adults found a spot either in the family room or living room.

In their house, they had two stoves, two refrigerators and three freezers. Under the house were several seasons of home-canned goods, Mason jars filled with vegetables, soups, gumbos, fruits, jams and jellies, all home-grown from their yard and garden. At holiday time, both stoves belched, both refrigerators ran overtime, and frozen foods in the freezers strained at the seams.

The house trembled with aromas while outside at the electric meter it was spin city.

Before dinner, we gathered for Paw Paw’s prayer, where he asked the Heavenly Father to “kindly smile upon us.” It was a prayer I had heard for nearly 35 years.

Dinner was served buffet style, all spread along the kitchen counter tops. Dishes of all varieties and tastes found a niche somewhere.

Grab a plate and go through the line.

From year to year, the menu varied little—traditional Southern cooking with a big touch of Myrtie’s mixin’s and fixin’s. Paula Deen could take a lesson.

So here we go.

Hey Paw Paw, what’s for Thanksgiving dinner?

 Roast turkey with giblet gravy

Chicken and corn bread dressing

Whole sliced ham garnished with pineapple rings swimming in brown sugar juices

Sweet candied yams with marshmallow topping

Black-eyed peas and hamhocks stewed hours in the pot

Butter beans with thick bacon slices

Slow simmering green beans in bacon drippings and ham bone

Creamed potatoes and gravy

Creamed corn laced with butter

Sliced ripe tomatoes from the garden

Breath of spring gelatin mix

Cranberry relish

Hot dinner rolls and sweet iced tea.

Yum Yum. Sounds pretty good Paw Paw. What’s for dessert?

Mississippi mud cake

Yellow cake with coconut frosting

Orange slice fruit cake

Old-fashioned banana pudding

Pecan pie and southern divinity

We liked these dishes so much, that Faye put together Myrtie’s famous recipes, compiled them into a book, and distributed them to our next generations. Now everybody can enjoy her mixin’s and fixin’s. In remembrance, we frequently make dishes from those recipes.

Several years later while organizing old family photos, I had discovered something quite remarkable. In the early days, back in the ’70s, I had taken a photograph of the kids table, the young cousins enjoying their Thanksgiving meal and one another’s company. The kids were about 6 years old at the time, give or take a few years. About 10 years later, I had taken another photograph in the ’80s of the kids table at Thanksgiving dinner, and discovered that the cousins, now teenagers, were sitting in the same chairs, at the same table, in the same kitchen, in the same house, eating almost the same Thanksgiving menu.

In case you need it as you gather together this Thursday, here’s Paw Paw’s prayer.

“Kind heavenly Father, smile upon us and forgive our sins. Make us thankful for these blessings. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

May your Thanksgiving holiday be filled with memories that go over the river and through the woods with family and friends in the grandest of your traditions.

Jim Smith is a former editor of The Post-Searchlight and misses Myrtie’s orange slice cake. Past writings in this space can be obtained online at www.jimsopinions.com