The Thanksgiving I Became a Man
Despite my age, I still look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas just as much as I did when I was a youngster up in the Texas Panhandle, but for different reasons.
As I youth, three-quarters of my anticipation was getting together with cousins. The other 25% was the piles of food.
Today as an age-challenged individual, I count myself blessed to be able to look forward to the warm gathering of family and friends.
No question, Thanksgiving has changed over the years.
While turkey has always been associated with the holiday, as a youngster, our main fare was chicken, and usually it was fried, but we sure didn’t argue the point.
Today after a good meal, we settle back for a football game.
Sixty-five years ago, instead of after dinner TV (there was no TV), grown-ups gathered around a small space heater and brought the whole family up to date on their lives for the past few months. Outside, we boys ran wild.
Like most old codgers, I’ve romanticized those days. So what? We all pick the most pleasant days from the past to remember. that’s how most of us make it from day to day.
As I think back to those days, the delightful aroma of dinner on the oversized stove seemed more palpable than what comes packaged from today’s vendor; the friendly joshing and laughter merrier than the inane rattling from broadcasters and color men; the days brighter, and everyones’ enjoyment more fulfilled.
Usually, we spent Thanksgiving at my maternal grandmother’s. They lived about forty-five minutes north of Lubbock, right smack dab in the middle of what is called the Llano Estacada or Staked Plains.
The story goes that the early Spanish explorers used stakes to mark their path back to their camp since there were no trees nor shrubs nor hills nor prairie dog holes to serve as landmarks. The country then, as today, is as flat as a wet saddleblanket.
The drive from our home in the Panhandle was only about two hundred and fifty miles, but it usually took us around six hours in the old pre-war vehicles. Even the post-war autos took five or so hours.
That time of year, the weather was chilly—well, not chilly, but cold.
Mama’s house had four and a half rooms. the pot-bellied stove in the living room and the stove in the kitchen kept the two rooms warm. The two bedrooms were like ice as was the bathroom out on the closed-in back porch. I tell you, there was no piddling around when you had to use the facilities.
One Thanksgiving that I remember so clearly was the year I shifted from boyhood to manhood, at least in my mind. It was around 1944. I was eight.
My Aunt Mae drove into our home at Wheeler with her husband, a bull of a man named Millard Coate. He was big and rough and his favorite curse was ‘son-of-a-buck.’ He was as amiable and friendly as he was rugged, and I instantly idolized him.
Most men in my family with the exception of Uncle Henry were only around 5’9”. Millard, or M.O. as he preferred for Millard Ore, stood well over six feet.
He drove a Studebaker bobtail with a arched plywood top over the bed. He had constructed it with twelve-inch sides so it would slip down over the sideboards and tailgate like a hat. He planned on taking the truck on to Lubbock for a job after Thanksgiving.
Since Mae had not seen her sisters, Mom or Elva, for several months, nothing would do but the three ride together and do what sisters always do, find out the skinny on everything that’s gone on since they last got together.
Me, I rode with Mo. Boy was I proud. Eight years old and traveling across the Panhandle without my Mom. A heady feeling for a younker like me.
I don’t remember much about the trip except somewhere past Plainview (the name clearly describes the how flat the land is around there), the top blew off the bed.
With a ‘son-of-a-buck’ curse, Mo pulled off and backed up.
I jumped out and almost froze when the bitter wind hit me. That land was so flat I swear I could see the North Pole. Clenching my teeth, I grabbed the top. I couldn’t budge it, but here came Mo, muttering under his breath. Without seemingly an effort, he lifted the top and propped it against the truck. He told me to hold it in place, which I barely managed to do until he shed his jacket. He bent over and grabbed the edge of the plywood, and heaved, sliding the cumbersome top back into place.
That was sixty-five years ago, and I still marvel at his strength.
Back in the truck, Mo laughed and slapped me on the leg. “By god, we got it back in place, didn’t we, boy? You did a good job. I reckon that calls for a cup of coffee and hot cocoa, what do you say?”
If you think I felt grown up helping him with the top, you can imagine how I felt when we marched in a nice warm café and sat at the counter, me beside that great hulk of a man who called out to the waitress, “Lady, I’ll have a cup of coffee and bring a hot cocoa for my partner here-with marshmallows if you got them.”
Mo’s been gone a long time, over twenty-five years.
I still miss that big old bear of a man.
Incidentally, I didn’t get the marshmallows. They were rationed, but I didn’t even notice. I was with my hero.