The memories of these gatherings live on even though those who were associated with those times have passed away many years ago.
As an urban family, we normally celebrated Thanksgiving on the Wednesday prior to the actual holiday on Thursday. The reason for this advanced dinner arrangement primarily was concerned with my father, a practicing physician, who was able to arrange his house calls to coincide with dinner plans that included his mother, father, sister and other members of his immediate family. These functions were always held at our home in Homecroft – just south of Indianapolis. My mother prepared a large meal with all the trimmings – including all the traditional goodies of turkey, oyster dressing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. My Dad always insisted on mince meat pie for his dessert. From my memory, he only took one slice of the pie, and didn’t follow-up with it in the remaining part of the holiday.
On Thanksgiving Day, we loaded the car and headed toward relatives homes in southern Indiana. My Mom was a country girl, and this part of the celebration was always held at one of her family members’ homes. These gatherings were traditionally large in nature with upwards of thirty plus adults and kids featuring food selections galore. There was always turkey, ham, chicken, wild game, a dozen or so salads and many, many desserts. Some of those delicacies came straight out of cast-iron stoves that used corn cobs or charcoal for fire. How these delicious goodies came to the table with such humble beginnings always amazed me.
After emptying our plates and letting our stomachs digest all the wonderful treats, the activities would begin. Depending on the weather, the men would head to the cornfields to see if they could scare up a rabbit or two. The cousins would engage in a flag football game which would eventually end up in some form of roughshod tackle event. If the weather didn’t cooperate for an athletic endeavor, my uncles would play a cut-throat euchre game while the ladies retired to the kitchen to catch-up on family affairs. A major part of their discussion centered on drawing names for the Christmas gift giving. Because of family size, the amounts to be spent were always under ten dollars. However, more was spent on our grandparents.
Christmas Eve followed suit with the celebration being held in the city. Once again, this holiday had many traditions. There were the days of sorting and checking decorations that were always a scrambled mess; addressing Christmas cards; decorating the inside and outside of the home and purchasing gifts for the family. The expectation ran high throughout the month of December until it reached a fever pitch on the 24th. My Dad always made house calls into the evening until my sister and I could hardly stand the suspense. When we were smaller, we were sure that Santa Claus would pass us by if we weren’t close by the tree. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but adult family members always insisted that we eat something before Santa could appear. That only added to the thrill when we were allowed to finally enter the living room where the toys would mysteriously appear before our “wondrous eyes!”
On Christmas Day, we would trek south again for a day filled with households of people, food and gift giving. Keep in mind, these were the days before television, consequently we younger cousins had to amuse ourselves while awaiting for St. Nicholas to appear. He always seemed to come at about the same time, and his suit appeared as if he had spent a good portion of the year building the toys while wearing it. To this day, I can’t be sure which of the uncles took the key role of Santa’s helper in passing out the gifts. Each of the cousins received a two dollar gift from the grandparents. The adults were given five dollars. Then the various exchanges were made with everyone exclaiming, “How did you know that’s what I wanted?”
To me, the saddest time of year was immediately following the Christmas Season. The expectations were over for the year. It would be months before the families would gather again. The cold weather would bluster and bury us in ice and snow, and the walks to school seemed much longer in the shorter days of daylight.
As I grow older, the memories remain, yet I long for the times when the families gathered for the holidays. That doesn’t happen as frequently any more. Thanksgiving and Christmas are still celebrated, but with fewer and fewer people attending. I would relish a day filled with the joy and cheer of those long ago times. And, we wouldn’t turn on the television set!