With Thanksgiving just around the corner, poignant memories from holidays past have been flooding my mind. Each week, as I sit in my lounge chair for several hours taking chemo infusions, I find myself ruminating about events and people dear to me. Most of these memories are heartwarming; connected closely to the people, places and things that have etched lovely, funny and poignant lessons on the canvass of my consciousness.
I remember my late husband, Larry Hull, almost every day and especially during holidays. I met Larry on a blind date during my freshman year at Texas Tech. During that first date, he earnestly shared his life’s dream of being a pilot in the USAF, while I shared mine of being a teacher. By October, we were an item. He invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him, his mother and his younger brother at Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico. His dad was on Temporary Duty in Guam.
It was the first time in my life I didn’t spend Thanksgiving with my own family. Mother wasn’t pleased with my decision and I was surprised. I thought she would be happy I was dating someone who wanted to serve in the armed forces like Daddy.
I’ll never forget my feelings as I arrived at the air force base gate with Larry’s ’57 Chevy waiting on the other side. As the guard waved me forward past the barrier, a huge knot rose in my throat. I took it as a sign that something momentous was about to happen. I could hardly breathe. As the guard waved me on, it was as if the road to the rest of my life was opening up before me. We were on that road—Larry, the United States Air Force and me.
When we arrived, it was obvious that Larry had told his mother all about me. She hugged me tight and told me that Larry had insisted that some of my favorite foods be on the dinner menu. I was impressed that Larry had kept track of what I liked to eat. His mother had prepared celery stuffed with cream cheese and chives, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and hot, strong coffee.
Larry helped his mom wash the dishes while I sat at the kitchen table, listening to the two of them tell stories about living on the Air Force Base in Japan and about Mrs. Hull’s family in Alabama. She explained that when I met Larry’s Alabama family, they would embrace me because I was with Larry and they all loved Larry.
Who wouldn’t love Larry, I remember thinking.
Another special Thanksgiving comes to mind. Laura was 12 and we were living in Topeka. We flew to Texas to spent the holiday at my Grandmother Nennie’s house on her farm in Brownfield, where she lived alone.
I remember that the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade was on the television, but rather than sit passively watching, I felt an urgency to do something with Laura. As we discussed the Thanksgiving Day menu, I reminded Nennie of how much I loved turnips.
“Remember when PaPa planted a turnip patch every year and we’d pull turnips, boil them and serve them with salt and butter?” I said. “I loved that. I haven’t had turnips in ages.”
Nennie’s eyes sparkled, “Your uncle planted a mess of turnip up the dirt road that runs in front of the house. Turn left and walk a mile or so. You’ll see the patch close to the road. You pull ‘em and we’ll cook them.”
Laura acted as if I was out of my mind, but followed me up the road to where we found the turnip patch. “Why are we doing this?” she grumbled.
“Because I love turnips,” I replied. “I’m having a childhood memory moment.”
Laura and I pulled a bowl full of turnips and headed back to the house. Nennie was thrilled. We cleaned, cooked and boiled them in salt water, before draining them and adding butter, salt and pepper to the mashed turnips.
They were especially sweet that year because they had been in the ground through the mild Texas winter, but also because they brought back fond memories for Nennie, Mother and me. It seemed as if cooking Nennie’s turnips for Thanksgiving had inspired her to share stories with Laura about our common family folklore. These stories meant so much to me, coming from the matriarch of our clan.
Thanksgiving means cherishing and honoring the memories and stories about those long gone from our lives, but whom remain inscribed in our DNA, while writing new chapters of the story for future generations to pass along like priceless treasure.
This Thanksgiving, let’s celebrate our shared time together, setting aside whatever differences of creed or politics that divide us to embrace our common history, celebrating our future together as a family – and a nation.
(c) Tyra Manning 2017