By Hardy Jackson
Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother’s house we go
We never went over the river.
Or through the woods.
Or even to Grandmother’s house.
At least not on Thanksgiving.
But not Thanksgiving.
Most of my Mother’s family lived close by, so on Thanksgiving they came to our house because it was less trouble than if they had Thanksgiving at theirs.
They might have gone to my Grandma Jessie’s. Her house was in town, right across the street from the Methodist Church so she could attend whenever they opened the doors. But her house was too small for a Thanksgiving gathering, so it fell my family’s lot to host the dinner.
Dinner was always at noon.
At night it was supper, just like it was for Jesus.
The Last Supper, not the Last Dinner.
But I digress.
So, everyone came out to our house.
Not that there were many.
Mama, Daddy, me and brother Bill.
Grandma Jessie and “Buck,” my bachelor uncle who lived with his Mama. He said he took care of her. We felt it was the other way around.
Aunt Stella and her husband Curtis.
And “Little Mary.”
“Little Mary” was our Old Maid cousin. She started coming after her Mama, “Big Mary,” died. “Little Mary” had money to burn but lived like a bag lady. She collected stray cats, incarcerated them in back yard cages she called the “Kitty Motel” and named them after Confederate generals.
When it comes to eccentricities, my family stands second to none.
Mama cooked a ham and a turkey.
Everybody else contributed something. “Little Mary” brought a dusty tin of Scottish shortbread. Same tin every year. No one ever dared open it.
In addition to being about family, Thanksgiving was about football. This presented a problem.
“Little Mary” and Curtis were big University of Alabama fans, though neither ever attended. “Pickup truck alumni” someone called them.
During the Bear Bryant era they took delight in harassing my Daddy, a fiercely loyal Auburn graduate. Once they went a little too far. Daddy got mad and told Mama he was calling off Thanksgiving. If Mama invited them anyway, he would take his plate and watch football out in his Poutin’ House.
In an effort to keep the peace, when Mama issued her Thanksgiving invitation, she added that if any guests mentioned football, that would be the last gathering we would host. Daddy, for his part, agreed to “make nice” as long as the others kept quiet.
So, on the appointed day they came, they ate and they were gone before kickoff. As the last of them left I heard Daddy humming this Thanksgiving hymn.
Gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His name: He forgets not his own.
May your Thanksgiving be merry and bright.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.