Thankful at Thanksgiving

As a child I was a picky eater; come to think of it, I still am. There were so many things I didn't like to eat, and the dishes served at Thanksgiving dinner were no exception.

Oh, I liked the plates just fine — Mom set the table with her fine china for the holiday meal. She also got out the fancy silver flatware that was usually kept in a velvet-lined case. Now, we didn't drink wine, or even iced tea, from crystal goblets, but at least we drank from proper tumblers and not the usual used jelly jars. We even used bread plates on the table. Now, that really was fancy.

Our dining table on Thanksgiving Day was quite a show of bounty. Mom even extracted the leaf from the buffet drawer to extend the dining table to long, luxurious splendor, then she draped her best lace tablecloth over it.

Ours was a groaning board fit for a king, or at least, one fit for Mom, Dad and us six youngsters. As for me, the meal didn't live up to its hype. The culprit was — you guessed it — the food.

I wished Mom would stop saying, "Eat your turnip greens. They're good for you."

To be honest, I didn't care one whit about how many vitamins the greens contained. They were — yuk! And you know what else I didn't care for? I didn't like — horrors — turkey.

I had a very good reason for my dislike of Ol' Tom Turkey. In the autumn, my dad used to go on hunting trips. On one such foray, he not only bagged a few squirrels but also felled a wild turkey. Dad brought the lifeless feathered effigy home, and it was left to Mom to handle the dirty work. That meant scalding the bird, plucking the feathers and gutting the innards. All this before roasting it on Thanksgiving morning. The preparations also included extracting traces of gunshot that had brought the bird down in the first place.

Amid all these preparations, Mom had missed a piece of the gunshot, and it was left in the turkey's flesh. At dinner, guess who had the misfortune of biting down on a pellet? Me.

That did it — no more turkey for me. Not at that dinner, nor for a long time to come. As for the squirrels, I never did develop a taste for them, although I was assured that they tasted like chicken. No way did I fall for that bit of subterfuge.

Nor did I care for candied yams. I didn't like sweet potatoes and that was that. Mom could coat them with as much brown sugar and cinnamon as she wanted to, I still detested them. She attempted to make them irresistible by topping them with marshmallows and putting them in the oven to make a sugary garnish. What a horrible waste of marshmallows. I preferred my campfire bon bons straight from the plastic bag.

And as for canned green peas — who needed them? Certainly not I. The jolly Green Giant could keep them, as far as I was concerned.

Thank goodness for mashed potatoes. They were great-tasting with either a dollop of butter or a ladle of gravy — or both. I loved both to eat the mashed potatoes and to play with them. Actually, it wasn't play so much as it was manipulating the contents of my dinner plate. I used the potatoes as camouflage. With my fork, I would skillfully swirl them on my plate this way and that, to conceal a good portion of the healthy but unappealing vegetables.

Now, I did adore soft, white Wonder Bread. I filled up, whenever I could manage it, on mashed potato sandwiches.

A special treat was the bowl of spiced apple rings. Mom bought them at the A&P, and they came in a jar. They were dyed a deep red with food coloring. They neither looked nor tasted like real apples. I didn't care, they were cute.

After my starchy repast of mashed potato sandwiches, I had a big slice of sweet and spicy pie to look forward to. I was pleasantly satiated with carbohydrates. No wonder I was chubby.

To tell the truth, I wasn't very thankful for Thanksgiving dinner. But I should have been. I knew better. Mom certainly taught me by the Good Book. Why, just that very Thanksgiving morning at our after breakfast devotionals, she read to us youngsters from the Book of Psalms: " ’O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving ... ."

Mom read to us from the Bible every day, and Thanksgiving Day wasn't any different. Dad, on the other hand, did not, but he led us by example. He willingly left the teaching of faith to my Mom.

But I remember how Dad sat at the head of our dining table on Thanksgiving Day and said grace, giving God the praise and thanking Him for the meal we were about to receive. That was a special moment and quite significant because we knew that he had grown up in a non-God-fearing home. Only his Uncle, Thad, my great uncle, was a believer.

Not only was Uncle Thad a believer, but he was a devout man who lived his faith 24/7. Thad was but a poor farmer, but he was rich in values. He believed in keeping the Sabbath, not only for himself, but his horse as well. Six days a week the old plow-horse worked, but on Sunday it rested. Uncle Thad wouldn't allow the horse to pull the wagon to take him to church service. Instead, Uncle Thad walked the 5 miles to the old Slash Church in Hanover. He was the church's custodian and arrived early and opened up the sanctuary before the other church members arrived. In winter, he got there an hour early and made a fire in the wood stove. Life could not have been too easy for Uncle Thad. He took to heart the words in the Book of Genesis, "By the sweat of thou face thus shall eat." Thad toiled hard, praised God and gave thanks.

Apparently, Uncle Thad's quiet testimony set an example for my Dad, and he thereby passed these lessons on to me. Not quiet yet, but years later, I did feel guilty. Guilty for not appreciating the dishes Mom had prepared for our Thanksgiving Day dinner. I was repentant for not appreciating Dad's grueling work every day at the shipyard so our family could have such a fine array of food on the dinner table.

Many regrets I harbored for my indifference to God's bounty. Today, I try to right that wrong and give thanks, sincere thanks, for the bounty which we are bout to receive. Amen.

Whipple is a Williamsburg writer who has published several books, including the upcoming "Christmas Dreams, Christmas Memories."

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