Thursday, November 19, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

   Even though I find myself caught up in the throes of planning the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast at our home which I have now totally embraced, it was not always so. Growing up in a southern clime, it seemed a bit absurd to sit inside around a dinner table when mid to late November days in Southern Alabama count themselves as among the most glorious on the planet. Hence the tradition of a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal and family gathering was birthed in my family.
   The day would dawn and I would shiver with anticipation. I would be up with the birds hoping that we could get an early start on the journey to Lake Frankie. But first the seemingly endless dishes of food must be prepared and made ready. Thankfully, my mother had made most of the preparations ahead of time. I would be impatient as the food, the quilts, the folding chairs, and the clothes were loaded into the trunk of the car, but it would not be long before we were headed up the road to the family farm outside a tiny town in Alabama where we gathered for our meal. My uncle would have moved most of the cows out of the pasture and even mowed an area near the body of water that had been lovingly christened Lake Frankie after my beloved great-grandmother, the erstwhile matriarch of our voluminous clan. I only realized in later life that Lake Frankie was in fact not a a lake at all; but the lack of size was not important or apparent to me as a child or teenager. And in a family where story-telling and exaggeration are a finely honed art form, Lake Frankie it was.
   I had my own preparations to make. It was imperative that one always pack at least one change of clothes because you never knew if you might "accidentally" fall in while fishing or otherwise somehow manage to get wet. We began bundled up with lots of layers of clothing because though it might start out and end up cool or cold, there was usually lots of warm Alabama sunshine in between. There would be sawhorses with plywood that served as the makeshift banquet tables with multicolored quilts spread over them to hold the burgeoning feast. The food that would appear as if by magic was a continual delight. With no ovens, no running water, and only a bonfire nearby, the meal always took on the feel of a down-home gourmet camp-out. Instead of turkey and dressing (those foods were reserved for the Christmas meal in our family) there would be platters of fried chicken, sliced ham, field peas, squash casseroles, green beans, potato salad, congealed salads of every known color and variety, cornbread, hoe cakes, and a multiplicity of pies, cakes, pound cakes, and finger desserts of enviable delight. Some years there would be a man shucking oysters out of the back of a truck and children lined up with adults to swallow them on a saltine cracker with a little shot of Tabasco as fast as they could be shucked. There would be quilts aplenty on the ground for napping and the eating was not confined to a particular was more like contentedly grazing from noon until dark. There would be horses to ride for the brave of heart or the accomplished for these were not pleasure ponies but working quarterhorses that had been trained to herd and the rider must be aware that his or her horse could take out after an errant cow like nobody's business -- nearly jerking you off the saddle if you weren't prepared. There would be john boats for those who wanted to fish and cane poles of every size with weights and bobbins and hooks galore. And if someone forgot the worms for bait, there was always something that could be pilfered from the table when heads were turned. It was my idea of heaven, and one that I will never forget.
    Even now when I set my table with the fine china and the flat silver and drag out the platters for the turkey along with the gravy boat, I find myself longing for the smell of wood smoke that clung to me for days or the warmth of the sun on my face as I lay on the quilts with my momma, my sisters, cousins, and aunts for an afternoon nap. I chuckle when I remember that my husband who had never baited a hook in his life threw in his line to catch the largest trout of the day on his first Thanksgiving feast with my family. He called it beginner's luck and decided to end his fishing career then and there. It is a story that has been told and retold so often it has become a legend in my family to this day.
    I am almost certain that the memories are more than likely more glorious in some respects than the actual event ever was. I remember no arguments, no bickering, no whining or disgruntled feelings at all. The day is always beautiful, the food is always good, and the sense of community enduring. But that is the best thing about remembering, is it not? You let go of the moments that were less than perfect (did I mention that there were no bathrooms around?)...and hold on to the treasures that you take from the day.
    And in the passing years, time works its magic and the memories become ever sweeter. It is for me what family and the love of God are all about. So over the river and through the woods to Lake Frankie's is a place that I shall always love to go....and perhaps after all, it was not so very far from heaven on earth.


  1. Oh how I loved this post. You write beautifully, of course, (you always have) but taking me to Lake Frankie has warmed me from head to toe. My favorite line is "a family where story-telling and exaggeration are a finely honed art form". LOL - are you talking about me??? I'll take is as a compliment. : )
    Thanks for a giant smile.

  2. I too remember all this with fondness. I even liked it in later years when we started going to Geneva County lake with all the trees. I loved how you mentioned that time takes away the "imperfections"! Love you and miss our trips together on Thanksgiving!

  3. I am the Queen Exaggeration in the family! That "art form" is definitely a personal reference! Thanks for all of your encouragment! It has been a joy to write again after a long hiatus.

  4. If you're the Queen, then I'm the princess. Ask my kids. ; ) I introduced to you today in my post. Love you.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. We appreciate your input and feedback! Have a blessed day!