(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
It must have gotten tiresome.
For all our growing up years, my mother slept on the sofa by the kitchen the night before Thanksgiving. That way she could get up periodically and “see to the turkey,” basting and such as needed doing.
Sometime around 1990, Mother was taken by a brilliant notion. Sometime that September at a family get-together, she announced, “For Thanksgiving I have rented a beach house at Fort Morgan for the week. Anybody who wants to come down for any length of time is welcome to do so.”
My brother and sister and I were surprised. What? No more gathering of the family at Mama’s long pine table? No more setting up card tables for the children and overflow guests who inevitably appeared? (For years those guests included the two young men sent to Selma by the Mormon Church that year in an always-bankrupt attempt to convert somebody. Anybody. “They look so thin and hungry riding those bicycles all over town,” was Mama’s explanation.)
We were puzzled, caught off guard, but we recovered quickly. After all, it was the beach. It was a new adventure. It was still a family assemblage, and that’s what mattered.
That very first year at the beach, everyone adapted quite well. A huge roomy house right there on the shores at Ft. Morgan was, after all, something to be really thankful for. And no turkey on earth could hold a candle to the pot of boiling shrimp---huge tasty Reds---that became our traditional Thanksgiving meal.
In the early years of the new tradition, Mother would drive down from Selma with my sister Kitti on Monday to set up the house for other arrivals later in the week. The rest of us would go down as soon as possible, hoarding vacation days from work to stretch out the family time at a place that is near perfect in November. The summer tourists were gone, the autumn sky was Mediterranean blue and, no matter how cold, the Gulf insisted we wade in deeper and deeper until we were drenched by the waves.
In 2005, my sister died just weeks before Thanksgiving. My mother, by then in her 80s, acknowledged her failing eyesight prevented the long drive alone to the beach. But her indomitable spirit insisted on continuing the tradition.
“Kitti would want us to go.” That’s all she said.
It was impossible to hurdle the absence of my sister, her gypsy spirit and laughter, her propensity for surprise---magically producing harmonicas, tambourines and kazoos for impromptu family performances.
But every Thanksgiving until Mother’s death, our “adopted” family member, her next door neighbor, Charlie Lucas, would drive with her down on Monday to set up the house.
My mother, deeply rooted in her Methodist upbringing, would call all in attendance to gather around the Thanksgiving table. We would hold hands. Mother would say a short and beautiful blessing and make her annual attempt to have each of us say a word of personal thanks. It would begin well.
“I’m thankful for each family member and for our friends gathered here today,” I would say.
“I give thanks for recovery from the illnesses this family has suffered,” my sister-in-law would say, her words of thanks precious, for there had been many.
“Thank you, God, for these people who have taken me in to be part of their loving family,” was Charlie’s prayer.
But, when it came his turn, the mood of the deeply touching sentiments would be dispelled by my wonderfully irreverent brother. “Roll Tide!” he’d say, and we’d all collapse into the great gift of laugher, and it was another Thanksgiving well spent.
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–Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University.
Dilcy Windham Hilley
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