In 1789 President Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving, but this was hit or miss, and it was observed intermittently until 1863 when Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. This seemed to make everybody happy, until “hello” in 1939 FDR did some more proclaiming and Thanksgiving was changed to the third Thursday in November.
This was not supposed to be trifled with. However……
In some states the holiday was observed on the third Thursday, others paid it no heed; and folks who wanted to eat at Grandma’s, knew they’d better show up on the fourth Thursday. A fairly common question during the 1939-41 period was: “Who’s Thanksgiving yaw’ll observing, Roosevelt’s or Grandma’s?”
The politicians had crossed the wrong crowd this time. While Grandma didn’t care a whit what Congress decided one way or another; she knew very well which day was Thanksgiving and which day was Christmas; Congress got a little steamed by all the national confusion. So, in 1941 a final resolution was passed which established the time for giving “Thanks,” as the fourth Thursday in November. Period!
Ah, those Novembers, that time. That place. If you close your eyes you can almost touch that feeling, smell that turkey! The Promise Land. Remember when a day seemed to last an eternity. And for Grandma who worked so hard, they probably felt like it.
Today, I suppose a good many families go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. But the table of choice used to be at Grandma’s, and folks just hitched up or cranked up and clucked right along to where the spread was taste-tested.
In fact everyone stayed, or hung closely around Grandmas during Thanksgiving week. Travel was slow, and cold. So when Pilgrims from any distance gathered they came for long visits.
The big Thanksgiving meal was around noon, and there was enough food on Granny’s table to sustain us through a famine of Old Testament proportions. Still we worried………
With all the grownups, teenagers and little “younguns,”certain eating arrangements became necessary. The elders of the tribe ate at the “first table” the teenagers ate at the second table, and the miserable small fries stood around and put a silent pox on the human race, as they waited, (and waited, and………) for the “third table,” their time to finally fill up on Grandma’s sweet cooking.
“Real suffering” my friend Oscar Bizzell used to describe it. The adults weren’t so bad, but as little ones watched and waited for the second table to be cleared, eternity took on a whole new meaning. The tots knew, those laggards would eat the good parts of the turkey, and most of the desserts before it got to them. “You ate ALL the sweet-potato pie!”
Many a youngster when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, would reply: “All I want to do is sit at that first table, one durn time!”
Sleeping arrangements really required imagination, even at Grandma’s roomy, old house. Trundle-beds, pallets, (quilts on the floor) feather beds, and just about anything Grandma could devise were pulled out of somewhere and touched up for sleeping her brood, and all the others that had somehow found her house and joined the family.
Naturally, it was a ‘given’ that fights broke out between three-four boys sleeping in the same bed. By the time the rest of the crowd was peaceful, you could depend on some ‘curly-head’ who just had to have a drink of water or visit the facilities; thus water in either case, caused a fuss and annoyed half the household. And it really wasn’t a smart move to wake up Grandma!
Children were encouraged (told) to play outdoors regardless of the weather. So, they played fast-moving-games. Ante-Over, was about the busiest. Two sides throwing and yelling, any kind of old ball would do, just so it would bounce.
“Over! What’s wrong now”?
Finally, before anybody passed out from ‘pure hunger,’ the sweet, angelic call for “third table” rang loud and clear in the November air. Games were forgotten in the scramble to eat. Clean hands and small faces wreathed in smiles found a chair at dear Grandma’s table.
“Let the eating begin! “Thank you Lord,” the third table would now be rewarded. “Amen!”
So as you gather today with your own family, blessed, as I pray you are, give a passing moment of thought to childhood Thanksgivings. And if you’re old enough, smile, remember the “third table.”
Remember in your heart those Thanksgivings of yesteryear, those moments, those faces long gone. Remember too, that our best defense against the dark side of this troubled world starts in the haven of our own homes.
Remember the importance families placed in being together. Be nostalgic. And please remember Grandma………..
That lady knew exactly how to throw a perfect “Thanksgiving!”