I am no longer ambivalent about Thanksgiving.
Let’s face it, we all have our favorite holidays, and mine is Christmas. My second favorite is July 4, but that’s only because we are always at my favorite beach. Third is my birthday, and fourth is Halloween, then Easter, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Day.
Thanksgiving never even made it into the top five until very recently.
As a young adult and young mother, I considered Thanksgiving my “throw away” holiday. I would volunteer to work on Thanksgiving when needed, agree to stay in town and spend the holiday with my husband’s family, watch football games, go out-of-town for soccer tournaments or watch friends’ animals and houses for them on Thanksgiving if I could bank some good karma for Christmas. I didn’t care about Thanksgiving -- except I loved the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It was all about being off work, free and clear and home in Lexington, Tenn., for Christmas Eve.
Those feelings were formed in my earliest days. The traditions of Thanksgiving just weren’t that important in our family. My mother cooked at least two and sometimes three full meals every day, and she and my grandmother were great cooks. We gathered around the table to eat together most every night, and the food was always plentiful and delicious. You might get an extra dessert or two at Thanksgiving, but, except for my mother’s dressing, the whole Thanksgiving meal hoopla just didn’t seem that special.
You couldn’t spit without hitting a cousin, aunt, uncle or grandparent any day of the week, so the gathering of family wasn’t any big deal either. Plus, it was the opening of hunting season, so most of the excitement in our extended family centered around deer and not turkey.
When I got married, Thanksgiving began to mean more because it was time spent with the Burleson family -- my mother-in-law’s kin -- and a chance to get to know my husband’s cousins, aunts and uncles and some family that we truly only saw once a year.
But, quickly, soccer came along, and Thanksgiving tournaments became the norm for many years. I will be surprised if my children’s favorite Thanksgiving memories don’t revolve around being in my big green van, Esmeralda, traveling to Charleston to whoop-up on some unsuspecting, turkey-stuffed South Carolina team. They probably think “Under Siege” is a holiday movie, as they watched it on Esmeralda’s VCR 100 times as we traveled.
In my “empty nest” years, however, I have discovered some new joys at Thanksgiving. We still get together with the Burleson family on Thanksgiving Day, so those traditions are intact. If it’s a year when my Major-family nephews and their families are coming to town, that’s even better. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Fantasy of Trees has become part of our Thanksgiving traditions, and it is just simply wonderful no matter what your age.
And I have found that I love to cook -- either the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal, or parts of the meal -- or the “day after” meal if the boys have too many turkey commitments on Thanksgiving Day. I have been making my mother’s Thanksgiving dressing since she died almost 20 years ago, and it is a process that fills my soul with happiness and pulls me back into family history with every chopped onion and pan of cornbread.
So I find myself with a jumble of Thanksgiving memories -- all different, all precious. Traditions are the building blocks of family ties, but sometimes traditions have to bend and change. I used to think “new” and “traditions” were conflicting terms, but I’m older -- sigh -- and wiser now. New traditions are the sage in the dressing. You have to have it or the dressing is no good, but it needs to be fresh.
At Blount Today, we asked some of our friends to share their Thanksgiving memories with you. We have enjoyed them and hope that you will, too.
Mama Rodney cooked for days
I love Thanksgiving! It’s always full of delicious food and amazing family bonding. When I was a child, I remember my mother (Mama Rodney) cooking for days and days. In addition to the “regular” Thanksgiving fare of turkey and dressing, she always baked my Grandmother’s famous apple cake from scratch, and artfully composed her own favorite ambrosia salad. She gently peeled the fruit by hand, chopping each and every morsel to the perfect size.
I’m still amazed by the amount of work and love she put into a meal that would be consumed by my Dad, my three brothers and me in a matter of minutes. As we all grew older and our families grew larger, she kept the tradition strong, even as Alzheimer’s disease took her mind and she could no longer remember how to make her favorite dishes. Although she couldn’t seem to get our names right or put together a proper sentence, she could always remember the words to the her favorite Blessing and burst it out as we were all smiling (some tearful) and holding hands around the bountiful dinner table.
I am honored to continue the family Thanksgiving tradition of preparing the Thanksgiving meal, though my version is much quicker and semi-homemade because I have to also prepare for Black Friday at the jewelry store!
Keeping it simple
Peaceful, relaxing and predictable are the adjectives that stand out when I reminiscence about my Thanksgiving memories. My mom made the holiday simple yet perfect in every way.
My family would anxiously wait for everything to be prepared. The food was placed on our kitchen table. We would circle around the table filling our “fancy” china plates full of homemade cornbread dressing and sweet potato casserole with slightly burnt marshmallows on top. We would then eat our meal in the dining room that we visited once a year!
At some point during most Thanksgiving holidays, we dressed up for the dreaded Christmas photo. My fondest memory from this yearly experience was when I was 4 years old. My brother was dressed in jeans and a button down and was holding his trumpet, my sister wore a beret and held an artist palette, my other sister wore her purple leotard and carried her baton, and I wore a black leotard and tights and was striking a tap pose. Talk about embarrassing…but those were the special moments that have made me who I am today.
I am thankful.
I think the one Thanksgiving that stands out in my mind is when my family didn’t have much, and we managed to scrap up dinner for another family who was worse off than we were. I felt God was speaking to my spirit.
When I saw the look on their faces as I presented the meal to them, it made me want to cry. They were appreciative and thankful.
My father, who was 88 when he died, used to tell me Thanksgiving was everyday. He was right. Whether it’s being with my kids, grandchildren, all my special friends, my family and my friends at Aubrey’s – they’re my family too – or my church family, I look around and see how blessed I am. This is what Thanksgiving means to me.
Coach Phillip Fulmer
Extending the family
My favorite Thanksgiving memories were sharing a Thanksgiving prayer with my team and football family before a brisk morning practice, releasing them for the day to share Thanksgiving with family and friends; and then often times seeing many of our young men again, as they came by our house or one of our coaches’ homes as we shared our homes and families with the young men we coached.
Being with theses young men as families and mentors was special for me and Vicky and for my family.
Mayor Jerry Cunningham
Thankful for family, good memories
Dad and Mom are both gone now, along with my brother, so Thanksgiving is a time for me to be especially nostalgic about family and Thanksgivings past, present and future.
My brother and I were blessed with wonderful parents. They gave us all of the fruits of their labors. Thanksgiving, for them, was another day during which we learned to be thankful for what we had.
Larry and I were taught the history of the Pilgrims’ hardships and endurance. Mom was a great cook, and I can still almost taste her homemade rolls, dressing and pumpkin pies. Larry and I would rabbit hunt in the morning and play football after we ate.
The evening was a time for family --- usually just the four of us. Most of all I remember their Christian beliefs and patriotism.
I remember Dad sharing with us his loneliness those two Thanksgivings he was in the Pacific in WWII away from us. Years later in Vietnam, I experienced that same lonely, homesick feeling.
To me Thanksgiving will always be a day of remembrance and reflection. I am so thankful for family members who have passed and for family members who still are with me. What would Thanksgiving be like without family?
Home after trying time
I have so many wonderful memories of Thanksgiving but the one that stands out in my mind was when my son was about 14. He had suffered a serious injury and had been in the hospital for 33 days. It had been a very long and difficult time for him and his recovery included being in a body cast from his chest to his toes.
Even though his mobility was limited to crutches or a wheelchair, we were so grateful he was able to come home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving.
During this long ordeal our family learned so much about ourselves and our community. We discovered that we have lots of loving and supportive friends, several who met the ambulance at the hospital and stayed with the family until late that evening. We were embraced by a caring staff at Blount Memorial who became our son’s family when we could not be there. They patiently answered the call button when he became bored and wanted to talk to someone. Our family shared his care so we could be away from the hospital, while support through calls, visits, gifts and prayers came from our church family, the school and community friends. Finally, our daughter lovingly cared for her brother and became his “go-for” for months.
Thanksgiving is always a special time but never more than that year. Our son would make a full recovery, our family was reunited after weeks of separation, and we were home to celebrate the holiday. We are truly blessed to live in such a wonderful and caring community.
Rep. Jimmy Duncan Jr.
Good food, fellowship and fun
This will be my 62nd Thanksgiving, and, fortunately, every one has been spent in Tennessee.
Each Thanksgiving has been a time with family and friends and food and football.
It is one of my favorite holidays, and turkey and dressing are two of my favorite foods.
I eat way too much. But, as I told a group in Madisonville several years ago, the rest of my body is not much to brag about, but I was blessed with some of the greatest taste buds in the history of the world.
Almost everything tastes good to me, and my wife, Lynn, is a great cook.
I love dumplings and Sister Schubert rolls with real butter and pumpkin pie with real whipped cream and extra cranberry sauce.
For many years, we would play football in our front yard. Now, I have heard that turkey makes you sleepy, and I believe it, because I usually take a brief nap and then just watch football on TV.
In 1968, I was working as a reporter for the Knoxville Journal, which was a morning, daily newspaper. As low man on the totem pole, I had to work both Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, but I still made sure I got some turkey before going to the paper.
On Monday, Nov. 16, I spoke at Friendsville Elementary School. I told the children that half the people of the world have to get by on $2 or less a day. Several billion people are hoping to get one good meal a day and probably do not get it.
I told the students Blount County has become one of the most popular places to move to in the whole country, and that we are blessed beyond belief to live in the United States, and they were doubly blessed to live in Blount County.
This Thanksgiving I will be blessed by spending the day with my wife, four children, three of their spouses, five grandchildren, some of my wife’s family from Franklin County, Tenn., and two other family friends.
I hope your day will be filled with as much fun, food, noise and laughter as mine in a traditional Tennessee Thanksgiving.
I remember my mother’s famous dumplings which my father insisted on, and my mother declared not to go with the meal, but made them anyway without fail. I remember the football games and being a part of them, tomboy that I was.
Thanksgiving was then and is now great! I thank God for His bounty, family and friends!
Remembering the past
When I was younger, my parents, sisters, my aunt and uncle and two cousins gathered at my grandmother’s house to eat a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with the traditional turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry jelly. I never really understood, and still do not understand, why we had cranberry jelly because no one ever ate it - sorry, Mom! For dessert, we had pumpkin pie and Mom’s pecan pie.
Fast forward 15 years and now we have a much larger family with spouses, nieces, nephews, significant others, cousins and in-laws. It makes it very difficult for us to all gather at the same time and place to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together, but we still reminisce about the days of Thanksgiving past and the loved ones we have lost and the new family members that have joined us.
We have our family and friends and our health, so we truly have a lot to be thankful for everyday, not just on Thanksgiving.
Rev. Anne McKee
The Thanksgiving that stands out in my memory was exactly thirty years ago this year. The day before Thanksgiving, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, five hours from our home. My mom was at the hospital with him, and my sisters and I decided we should keep with the plan of having 14 family members come to our house for dinner.
We read Mama’s recipes and pulled off the meal with only a few mishaps. As soon as we washed the dishes, we drove to Houston and began a new and hard stage of our life.
That odd Thanksgiving underscored for me the blessings of having family who would hold one another no matter what came our way. It also embodied how life was changing.
My sisters and I were no longer children who were served or college students who were welcomed home, but had suddenly become adults who kept the rhythms going, even in time of crisis.
Every time I cook Thanksgiving dinner, I remember that year, with its sadness and its comfort.
According to some Website (and we all know that if it is on the Web in any form, it is true) the biggest tradition of Thanksgiving is turkey and dressing. The best-looking inedible turkey I ever experienced was on Thanksgiving Day, 1977.
The bride and I abandoned both families that year and flew to Jamaica. Thanksgiving morning, we walked down to the beach. Next to the bar, resting in a very big bowl of ice, surrounded by many Red Stripes was what the bartender told us was a Jamaican Butterball Turkey.
Closer examination proved him right, sort of. The offering was actually a 25-pound ball of butter, sculpted beautifully into the shape of a magnificent bird.
Thanksgivings spent in Blount County will always be marked by remembering family who are no longer at our table but are in our hearts and realizing how completely lucky I am to have been raised (and, yes, that process still continues) by a host of women who were and are magnificent cooks.
Mom Brooksie’s Thanksgiving Throwdown
Yea, I’m sure most of my East Tennessee friends would not have imagined it, but I come from a long line of family “Hog Killins” as we call them.
Although we didn’t actually do it on Thanksgiving Day, it was always right around then and Thanksgiving (or maybe its just the cool mornings) brings back those family memories.
Sometimes, if the weather had permitted, we would even have fresh sausage, midlin’ meat and crackling cornbread on the Thanksgiving table.
Better yet are the memories of the traditional Thanksgiving morning hunts of traipsing after rabbits and quail in the early days. Then as Tennessee allowed deer hunting, the Thanksgiving landscape totally changed as all the men all showed up at “Mom Brooksie’s Thanksgiving dinner” in camouflage or Carhardts. And, if one of us got lucky, a set of horns hanging over the side of the truck bed.
But best of all memories was just Thanksgiving day at Mom Brooksies. This was the one event where you knew you were seeing “everybody.” And, with my dad’s six siblings and all their kids and all their kids, it was an awesome spread -- a feast for a king, and one I will never forget.
Eating at the ‘kids’ table
Thanksgiving always meant being surrounded by family members since my parents always hosted the feast for both sides of the family. Long before daylight on Thanksgiving morning, I would hear my mother putting the turkey in the oven. While she toiled in the kitchen most of the day, I was glued to the television by 9 a.m. to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I always dreamed about what it would be like to experience it curbside in New York City.
Our Thanksgiving meal was rather traditional and always consisted of a ham, a roasted turkey, a smoked-turkey (which my uncle brought), cornbread dressing, plus a special pan of oyster dressing for my dad. We always had sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls and many other side dishes including pumpkin pie and congealed cranberry salad.
Thanksgiving is the time when we joined to share a meal and to kick off the holiday season. The kids were seated at a table in the basement, and the adults stayed in the dining room upstairs. We always thought that the rite of passage was being granted a slot at the adult table. Now, I long to be back at the kid’s table, where life seemed simpler and Thanksgiving Day was always about being surrounded by loved ones and the smells of the season.
To this day, the smell of pumpkin pie and of cranberries takes me back to the magical time when we didn’t count carbs or calories and we were honored with a spot at the “kid’s” table.
Today, my daughter has her own tradition. We kick off the season with a special breakfast of homemade pumpkin pancakes topped with cranberry syrup and fresh whipped cream. As soon as the first bite hits our lips, we know the holiday season is nigh. I can taste and smell Thanksgiving now.
Going to Nanny’s
It brings a smile to my face to remember my Thanksgivings as a child. If I try hard enough, I can still smell my Nanny’s (grandmother) cornbread dressing.
My stomach would get butterflies anticipating all the good food and family fun that awaited me at my grandmother’s house. Our very large family would all gather at my grandmothers’ and the house would shake with laughter and the aroma of food would make your mouth water even before you walked into the house.
The kids would sneak into the kitchen and “taste test” the food to make sure it was good enough to put on the table. Although times may have been tough during the year, when we met around the table to bless our food, there was always plenty to be thankful for. Everyone was always encouraged to say something or someone they were thankful for. As a child, I’m not certain I always understood what that was about; but I certainly do as an adult.
After the big dinner, it was play time. Horseshoes were next on the agenda, and the teams always stayed the same. We were all very competitive, and some would even cheat to win. (Not me of course.) After a full day of excitement and fun, it was back home for a nap.
There are not nearly as many people around the Thanksgiving table now. Many family members have passed and some new ones have joined. However, some things will always stay the same. We still have plenty of good food, loud laughter, lots of love and an abundance of blessings to be thankful for.
Meeting the family
One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories occurred over 22 years ago. My now husband, Otto, and I had been dating a couple of months, and I was invited to have Thanksgiving with his large family. His three siblings were traveling to Knoxville for the holiday and were anxious to meet “the new gal” who had grabbed Otto’s undivided attention.
Much preparation and excitement was going into the dinner itself, as well as the weekend following the holiday. Board games were dug out of storage, card tables were placed to accommodate the extra guests and Otto’s mother, Theresa, was working overtime cooking and cleaning.
Thanksgiving day arrived unseasonably warm and sunny. The leaves that year were stunning and some color could still be seen throughout the mountains. I was simultaneously excited and nervous, unsure whether or not I would pass scrutiny from the siblings and spouses driving “from up North.”
Upon entering the house, my fears subsided. Delicious smells wafted throughout, smiles could be seen on everyone’s face and the little niece and nephew were happily playing. A keg of beer was on ice and Uncle Paul and Otto’s father, Bill, were already trading tall stories.
Eventually, we were seated, the dishes passed and plates filled. After the blessing, we each took turns expressing what we were thankful for during the past year. My future in-laws, expressed how happy they were that Otto had found me. It was such a warm, welcoming environment, filled with laughter and love.
I fondly remember some mean Scrabble games that weekend, the fun we had laughing at Theresa’s almost inedible bourbon sweet potato casserole and bonding with my new extended family.
Dr. Taylor Weatherbee
Memories in the Smokies
My favorite Thanksgiving memory was about 6 years ago. We bought a cabin from Clay Crowder, a retired pediatrician, in the Mountain Homes community, at the end of West Millers Cove Road in Walland. The cabin had been in Crowder family for decades.
When we first bought the cabin, it had a very small kitchen that looked like a tiny hallway. There was no dining room, and we the only table was out on the porch. It was really cold, and I remember putting plastic up around the screens of the porch, and putting heaters out there.
I remember we had a whole bunch of our family and friends come, and my wife did a lot of cooking at our house in town, and brought food out to the cabin. Our friends and family all brought a little something, which also became a tradition.
Thanksgiving has always been big for my wife, children and family, and this started a tradition for our family and friends. It was memorable to me because we put in so much effort in hopes of starting a Thanksgiving tradition.
Since then, we have built-on to the cabin, including a dining area where we have a larger table right beside an old-time wood stove.
This year, we are going to try to add a little something extra to the tradition. We have been treating hemlock and are going to try to do trailwork the day after Thanksgiving, creating a trail from our property out to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Parades, family and antenna duty
Thanksgiving Day always began at my parent’s house watching the Thanksgiving Parade on television. With only 3 channels to choose from, that was pretty cool. I couldn’t wait to see Santa Claus. Did you know that if you yell loud enough at the TV, Santa actually hears you, I thought that for years anyway. (Then again, I still use that same theory while watching the Vols play on TV today.)
After the parade was over, we would load up in the family wagon (a 1970 Ford Country Squire) and head to my grandmother’s house for our Thanksgiving dinner. All of the cousins were there, and the house was filled to capacity.
After we ate, we would watch the football games on TV, but not before we performed a little magic. For the longest time, one of my Thanksgiving memories consisted of someone yelling to me and my brother from inside the house, “Turn it to the right, no back to the left. Now turn it back to the right a little bit farther.”
We weren’t lucky enough to have one of those fancy antennae turners, but why would we need one? My brother and I did just fine.
Cable wasn’t too common in those days, at least not in Athens, Tenn., so you had to figure out if the best reception was coming in from Chattanooga or Knoxville. The only way to do that was to give the antennae a good spin.
Sometime during the television game, the cousins would depart to the nearby elementary school for a game of football.
The nice thing about Thanksgiving is that, after 40-plus years, our family still has Thanksgiving at the same house. My grandmother is no longer with us, but my Aunt is more than happy to have us all over to share this very special time together as a family. PS: We have cable now!