I seemed to have spent the first 25 years running away from family and now I’m spending more time than I care to admit running back toward them.
This was the first Thanksgiving that I didn’t have the urge to strangle anyone in a long time. I could tell you stories of the last 5 years of bad timing, bad food, and crazy people that would show up for Thanksgiving. I had resigned my self to really turning it into a 35 minute Holiday. I show up. I eat. I exchange pleasantries. I leave. Except this year I had decided to tough it out a bit more than normal. I made it like three or four hours. Even visited Friends.
I’ve mentioned Dad from time to time and I’ve got more stories to tell. It was the first Thanksgiving after the death of my uncle. Typically we would all pack up and go to Cracker Barrel to eat. This year there was an attempt at cooking by mom. In the middle of cooking and eating I took one more swipe at the computer issue plaguing my dad. He has mastered email. He’s mastered the basic Internet search….but YouTube. YouTube has turned into a source of more entertainment than television. You have music, car repair, and fishing. Luckily I had come into ownership of new speakers. Theatre Quality Speakers. So as I looked at Dad’s YouTube favourites listening to Blue Grass I found the one squirrel hunting video.
So if you flash back 35 some odd years ago you would have found me sitting just north of Pikeville TN at Thanksgiving. Dad grew up poor. Really poor. So when 8th grade hit it was “work” or go to school more. He chose work. Any Holiday was centred around hunting. I’ve not known that type of life – any hunting done was at the local grocery store. Christmas was the worst. I would get a toy and he would start after a few minutes “I didn’t get toys – I got an new shiny apple” and mom would scowl.
On that Thanksgiving 35 years ago there had been a hunting trip and since we were 120 miles down the road Dad didn’t make it. We appeared about an hour before dinner and I immediately ran off and spent an hour throwing rocks in the creek or talking to family members I hadn’t seen since the last event. I had recently discovered chicken and dumplings. Imagine my surprise when I walked into dinner and there was dumplings. Usually dinner consisted of beans, a meat, corn bread, and a dessert. It was pot-luck so everyone had brought something. Typically it wasn’t anything I wanted to eat.
My dad’s mother – my grandmother – had confined herself to a wheelchair some years before. Arthritis seems to run in the family (says the guy straining to get out from under a desk connecting speakers to a computer) and she finally just gave up on the task of walking and puttered around in a wheelchair. She also chain smoked. There was not much to do for my grandparents on any given day except smoke, chew tobacco, and watch television.
I loaded up my plate with macaroni, dumplings, and whatever I thought I would eat. My grandmother rolled up and started smoking and eating. I don’t smoke. No one in my immediate family does so while eating I’m dodging smoke as it twirled its way around the table. I started on the dumplings. My grandmother fished a walnut out of the dumplings and smaacked it on the table. It didn’t crack and she smashed it again. Dumpling juice splattered and she grabbed a spoon and smacked it and it cracked finally. Smack. Splatter. Pry. Thump. Smack. Splatter.
“Get it Momma” one of my aunts yelled out.
“Look at her go” said an uncle.
and I went “Hey – why are there walnuts in the dumplings.”
“Walnuts…Boy your Daddy ain’t taught you nothing. We went squirrel hunting and that’s squirrel and dumplings. Whoever gets the squirrel head and eat the brains has good luck. Boy they are gooouuuuuuuuuuudddddd”.
I twitched and spit my dumplings back onto the plate. I looked up and Dad had a combination look of horror at me finally figuring out what I was eating and laughter because I had finally figured it out. I got up and left. “There’s an extra spot at the table someone belly up and get to eating”. If you’re going cook the head what else is in there………
On the drive home dad said “How was the sq…” and I cut him off. “I’m not eating up here again”. Dad chuckled and for a while I brought a can of soup on every trip up.
My diet has opened up a bit but it still doesn’t include squirrel. The grandparents are both long since dead. There are no more trips to my Dad’s family for Thanksgiving. The only thing we do with any regularity is get together for whatever funeral event is on the horizon. One of those happened not terrible long ago for a cousin on that side of the family. I couldn’t make it. I’ll make the next one.
Anyway. Enjoy your family. Don’t eat any strange walnuts in your dumplings. Don’t wait till the next funeral for a family reunion.