When your family gathers for Thanksgiving this week, what will you count as blessings?
- Safe travels?
- Somebody else cooked the turkey?
- Everyone is healthy?
Since March I’ve been counting the gifts God has blessed me with; I’ve learned to pay attention to little things. But listening to my Daddy’s stories of growing up in the Depression reminded me of how my grandmothers cooked a Thanksgiving meal during the 1930s. For people in many parts of the world today, cooking a meal and staying warm in winter is not much different than it was for my parents and grandparents. Compare your next few days with these memories from a tape my daddy recorded in 1985.
COOKING, STORING FOOD
“Wherever we lived there was always a big cistern in the ground. All during the winter we would catch rainwater or melted snow in it and hope we’d collect enough to last us for the summer when it got dry. The cistern looked like a well but it was about 15 to 25 feet deep. Many times I saw Mama take jars of milk, put them in a bucket, and lower them into the cistern down to the water level. She would tie the rope off and leave them there until she was ready to use them. You could usually keep milk a couple of days in the cistern before it would turn sour or we called it “blinky”.
How well I remember the old cookstove Mama had. I wish I knew how many pieces of wood I had to cut for that thing. It was always amazing how Mama could always know just how much wood she needed in the stove to maintain the proper temperature. She could control it with almost splinters of wood. When we were small we had to keep the wood box full. As we grew older we had the responsibility of cutting the wood. This went on the year round; we cut wood in January, and we cut wood in July. Neither one of those times were a good time to cut wood; you either freeze to death or burn up.”
“Most of the houses I remember us living in were good houses, and most of them used an old fireplace for heat – you could almost freeze to death if that was your only heat. I remember when we got our first warm morning heater. That was the greatest invention that ever happened! You could fill that stove up at night with coal, and when you got up the next morning, the fire was still there. All you had to do was shake the ashes out, open that stove up, and it was off on a roar. To me, that was the greatest thing, because you didn’t have to get out of a good ol’ warm feather bed, dress in a cold room, go into the living room, and build a fire. It just took forever to get yourself warm on those mornings.”
“The farming work I remember was planting crops, mostly corn and tobacco, some oats and a lot of peas for making hay. Daddy always milk cows from the time I remember anything about farming. The first chore we had every day was to go up to the barn to milk. That would take about an hour and a half every day; while we were at the barn, Mama was making breakfast. We always had sausage or ham, gravy, eggs — most of the time, if the chickens were laying, and hot biscuits. It was the same thing every morning. The only time I ever known breakfast to be anything else might be on a Sunday. Mama would get up while we’d sleep a little bit late, and she would fry a chicken for breakfast. That was a great treat. Everything we ate was from food we raised ourselves, except the flour and sugar. The meat, we cured or smoked, the jelly and jams, Mama put up every summer. We were pretty self-sufficient.
I remember that for a long time the only thing we used in farming was mules. Lot of farmers used horses, but Daddy didn’t like horses. He thought horses were too head-strong, too fractious; you couldn’t depend on them. Once he got a mule trained, he believed you could do anything with them. We traveled in a wagon or walked wherever we needed to go. Sometimes we kids would ride one of the mules. That always embarrassed me, riding a mule. Someone would ride up on a beautiful horse, and I’d be on an old flop-eared mule with a back bone that would almost bisect your body, slow, lazy, didn’t care. I never did like to go anywhere on a mule. I thought we should have at least one horse to go places on.
We never owned any land; my daddy was always a share-cropper. The old Burnham place was a farm we lived on the longest. Mr. Burnham was pretty wealthy and lived in Paducah. Farming was probably a hobby to him, but I remember the first tractor he bought for the farm. It had steel wheels on it. I remember people coming from miles and miles around to see that tractor work. When Daddy decided I knew enough about driving the tractor, he let me drive it by myself.”
Daddy said that even though they were poor, as kids, they thought everything was great. Most everyone else they knew were in the same situation as their own family. In light of these memories I’m counting some different blessings.
I thank God:
- I have all the water I need when I turn on a faucet.
- I can turn on a stove run by electricity to cook a turkey and vegetables.
- I have a large refrigerator to store more than enough food for a week of meals.
- when it turns cool the only thing I have to do is change the thermostat.
- I have a car filled with gas so I can buy the food I need at a store less than one mile from my house.
I hope you are counting blessings as simple as a two year old in a pile of leaves and then cousins piling in with her.
Thanksgiving Tree from Ann Voskamp
A Family Trivia Activity from Martha Stewart