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Thanksgiving and Thanks-Living! A Look Back at Days Gone By; What are you Thankful For?

By Wayne Dozier

Elmore County Resident, Writer and Amazing Human

Artwork by Norman Rockwell entitled “Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey”

As we approach another Thanksgiving season, I can’t help but think about what some of the families went through to celebrate this season in years gone by. They did not only celebrate this day once a year but all year.

Now a days we jump into our vehicles with heaters and drive a few minutes to our beautiful church buildings with central heat, padded pews and carpet on the floor. We gather with many of our family members at one of our homes with all of the food, television, cell phones and central heating…. The yard is filled with many late model cars and trucks. ARE WE REALLY THANKFUL ?

In years gone by before all of these conveniences came about, what did some families go through to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with their church family? Most of the families lived many miles away from a church. Most of the time the church building was really an old schoolhouse. They had what was called a circuit ridin’ preacher who would come around only a few times in the year. Thanksgiving was one of those times. Usually the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day was the one day that most families looked forward to all year. Families who lived close around in the area would meet at each other’s homes or at their church building (schoolhouse) if one was available. Most of them did not gather at Christmas like they did at Thanksgiving, because of the cold weather which might include snow, rain and ice. You see many of them lived several hours away from the gathering places so they just had their own church service at home. Many of the children were home schooled.

At Thanksgiving most of their crops had been harvested and laid by for the winter. Their shelves in the cupboard were filled with jars of canned and dried food that they had reaped from their gardens. They had a good supply of firewood cut but it would be split as they needed it.  All of the members of the family helped with the preparations. It did not matter how young you were, you would be expected to help prepare food for the winter. Even children three or four-years-old could sit around with the family and shell peas and butterbeans.  Grain and hay were stored for the winter to feed the farm animals such as chickens, milk cows, horses, mules and hogs.  The weekend before Thanksgiving was exciting for everyone.

On Saturday the family made certain that their Sunday go to meetin’ clothes were aired out and looked decent to wear. Mom and her helpers prepared all of the food that they were going to take to church tomorrow. Cakes and pies were baked and ready. Even the chicken was fried on Saturday afternoon, or if a turkey could be shot it was baked and ready. Most of the time the turkey was saved for the family Thanksgiving. Dad recruited all of the family to help put the ole cover on the wagon frame that they had brought with them several years ago when they came to homestead in this barren country. This would keep the family dry from rain or snow if they were blessed with either one on this trip.

Mom and dad got up before daylight as well as the older children. The older children had their responsibilities such as feeding and watering the livestock and collecting the eggs and feeding the chickens. Mom cooked hot biscuits and fried ham and put them in a syrup bucket with a lid so that they would stay warm while dad got the mules and wagon ready to travel. They would eat breakfast on the road since sometimes it took 4-5 hours to reach their church meetin’ place. The younger children would be awakened and dressed and loaded with their blankets with them to stay warm as they traveled.

After a couple of hours, they had a break to rest the mules or horses and let the children stretch their legs and have a bathroom break. Sometimes dad would build a fire and heat up a pot of hot coffee for he and mama. This was the time mama would break out the hot biscuits and pour some fresh warm milk that she had brought along. You see daddy had put some bricks by the fireplace the night before and heated them up and they would stay warm for several hours. He had wrapped them up in feed sacks and put them over in the corner of the wagon. Mama had put the buckets of food and a bucket of fresh milk on top of the bricks so that they had a hot breakfast.

This was just one of many ways that the children were taught that you make do with what you have. After several hours of traveling they reached their destination. Several other families were arriving about the same time. They tried to start the service around mid-morning. All of the children ran and hugged each other as they only saw each other once or twice a year. Most of the times their hymn singing was acapella (no instrumental music).  Sometimes someone would bring a guitar or a harmonica and play along with them. They would have testimonies as to how God had blessed them this past year. I wonder if they sang “COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS”? Usually there had been a death or two since the last gathering and this was told to everyone. The preacher would preach a hell fire and damnation message. If any got saved they would wait until the summer to have baptism in the local creek when it was warmer.

After the church service everyone spread “DINNER ON THE GROUND” on their quilts, in case you always wondered where that saying came from. After eating, the children ran and played, while the men talked about their crops and farming. The women shared new recipes and all the good news about who was expecting or getting married. Some of them brought their quilts that they were making to show off. Most of their quilts had a story behind them. If you have never heard “quilting stories” told about the pictures or designs that are in a quilt, you don’t know what you are missing.  One day I will show you some of our quilts and tell you some of the stories that I remember about them.

The fellowship seemed like it had just begun when the fathers started hitching up the wagons to head home. They all had to get home before dark in order to feed and care for all of the farm animals. They shed tears of sadness as well as gladness. They were thankful for all of their blessings all year long and not just this special day called Thanksgiving.

I sometimes wonder if we have not been so abundantly blessed that we just take too much for granted? When we are truly thankful for something, we usually thank the individual who made it possible. Have you thanked God for the things He made possible in your life?

By the way…what is the “one thing” you are thankful for this Thanksgiving season?