I found myself thinking on feast day this week of Thanksgiving past.
My first real recollections of Thanksgiving are at Aunt Esther’s home in Columbia. Uncle John would have been alive then, back in the 1970s. The Carter crew would pile into the station wagon or the van and make the day-trip to Columbia. This was always a pitch-in affair, although Aunt Esther did the most of the cooking. G-ma Blocher (my mom’s mom, and Aunt Esther’s sister) would be there, of course. So would an interchangeable cast of Aunt Esther’s nieces and nephews (my mom’s generation) and their children (my generation). I recall that the Musgraves were usually in attendance, and it seems that Paul Gutshall’s family was too.
I hated stuffing. Just couldn’t stand it. And then somewhere around 18, my taste buds found salvation. I realized that I liked sage! And thus began a love affairs with cornbread or bread stuffing that has lasted to this day. None of oyster stuffing for me. Give me sage and cornbread stuffing, with loads onion and celery, and I’m happy.
Stuffing also figures into one of my deep regrets with my own mother. Her brother, my Uncle Edwin, and his wife Mary were up for Thanksgiving. I was home from college. And Mom was prepping Thanksgiving dinner. I found out there was no stuffing on the menu, and I recall going on and on about that. So did Uncle Edwin. So Mary, to my mother’s pique, made cornbread and put together stuffing. Mom said something along the lines of “my meal isn’t good enough for you.” And I was instantly chagrined.
I don’t know that I ever made amends for that, as we never mentioned it again.
When my parents took off for Argentina, Thanksgiving was suddenly at G-ma’s home in Adrian. Uncle John had died in 1984, and Aunt Esther was no longer doing Thanksgiving. By 1990, though, I was having Thanksgiving with Jerry and Jeannie Young and their family in Independence, and later in Oak Grove. They were second family to me for many years until I moved away after doctoral studies. My sisters and I all fended for ourselves — Karen with her husband, Beth away in Brazil for two years, and then with G-ma.
My more recent tradition has been to host a friends Thanksgiving. In Muncie, that was always with music faculty colleagues who weren’t traveling and would otherwise have been alone. These pitch-in affairs lasted all day and into the evening, with loads of booze and way too much food.
Here in Saint Louis, that tradition has extended to inviting students from Webster to join me — kids in my voice studio or a class that I’m teaching. They seem to appreciate a decent home-cooked meal at a real dining room table. And sometimes a friend or three stops by as well for the meal.
Notable Thanksgivings away include one in Vienna earlier this decade, and of course 2008 when I was just back from Seattle, closed my new home the day before Thanksgiving, and then moved that same weekend. (The day itself was with my colleague Glen Bauer and his late husband Tim, at their flat in the Central West End.)
Last year I was in NYC for Thanksgiving; the year before, with my family for the last holiday gathering with my father before he died.
Cheese grits are a fixture at Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is the holiday that moves me the most. It’s this ‘autumn’ thing I have going on. This year, Thanksgiving is colored by the death of my mentor and friend and former boss, and the huge void in this world that his death leaves. But the day (as I write on Thursday) will be with people I love, and all will be well.
Photos from Thanksgivings past: