Thanksgiving at Mama and Daddy’s house for many, many years meant the gathering of the Sumner clan. My Daddy had one brother and one sister. Another brother had died as a child in the great flu epidemic of 1918.
I can’t remember how old I was when Mama decided to start having Thanksgiving dinner at our house for all the Sumners. She would start cooking three days before Thanksgiving, and Daddy would be her “clean up man” – keeping the dishes washed and put up as she cooked. Her menu was always the same: chicken (not turkey) and dressing, ham Daddy had cooked on the grill for hours, which came into the house seared black on the outside, but moist and delicious on the inside, macaroni and cheese, turnip greens, butter beans, sweet potato souffle (that I still can’t make taste like hers), cornbread, rolls, relish trays, and cranberry sauce. Then there would always be ambrosia (I can remember Daddy peeling oranges and apples, and to this day my cousin Ronald says nobody could make ambrosia like my Mama), a pecan pie or two, and some kind of cake. One of my fondest memories of my parents is their constant presence together in the kitchen those three days leading up to Thanksgiving.
My Daddy died in 1996. Daddy’s sister had already passed away, and his brother’s family – three daughters and one son – were married and raising their own families. Everyone was going in different directions, spending alternating holidays with in-laws. The gathering of the clan had become more difficult, and with Daddy’s death, Mama gave up the annual dinner.
Until her death in 2007, we would drive to Sylvester and pick Mama up on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and she’d spend the holiday weekend with us at the lake. Jason and Blake would be home, and oh, how Mama would love the time she got to spend with her “boys”. When Jason and Blair married and Blake went to China, our Thanksgiving group dwindled down a lot of years to just Mama, Ted and I.
Mama died on her birthday in October, and Thanksgiving that year to this only child was not even worth mentioning. Blake was in China, and Jason and Blair were headed for Mississippi to spend the holiday with Blair’s family. Thank goodness, that was the year that Ted’s daughter Julie (I claim her as my own and love her like my own), her husband Matt, and the grandchildren were traveling to Florida to have Thanksgiving with Matt’s family. Matt’s Mom invited us to come down there and be with them. We were in the car so fast it would have made your head swim. The thought of Ted and I staring at each other over the Thanksgiving turkey was a thought I just couldn’t abide. Being with Matt’s very large family was a Godsend. We spent two nights in Florida, and grew closer to our son-in-law’s family.
By 2008, both Daddy’s brother and his wife had passed away, leaving the five of us first cousins parentless for the first time in our lives. Julie, my first cousin Ronald’s wife, called and invited Ted and I to join them for Thanksgiving at their house. Those four siblings were alternating holidays between them. Two live in south Georgia and two in the northern part of the state. She asked if I wanted to join the “Thanksgiving loop”, and I eagerly said yes. For some reason, it seemed really important for me to have everyone at our house at the lake that year (last year), so I asked Julie if she would mind giving up her “turn” and letting me host the dinner. She agreed.
So last year the Sumner clan was together once again. Our parents were gone, but we first cousins made an excellent start at reconnecting. Jason and Blair were home, and with the four cousins came spouses, children, and grandchildren – so many grandchildren! How wonderful it was to have little folks back in the bunch! The weather was great, and we spent most of the day on the deck, while the kids played football in the backyard. No one went home until late in the afternoon, after having a second dessert.
On Thanksgiving morning this year, Ted and I will get up early and drive to Rayle, Ga – a small community close to Athens. Midge, the youngest of the four first cousins, and her husband live on a farm there, and the whole group will gather for dinner. We will spend the night and come home on Friday. I hear Clay, Midge’s husband, has some surprises waiting – a rumored hayride!
What a joy to be part of a large family – and never is it more meaningful than at the holidays. Sitting around a table filled with southern cooking, where all the chairs are filled with loved ones, is a memory that will just keep on replaying after the day is over. We all may see each other again during the next year, but if not, we now know that each year we will come together again to catch up and see how much all the grandchildren have grown – and if more have been added!
My hope for each of you this Thanksgiving is that you can be with friends and loved ones, for that is the important thing. When our Thanksgiving prayer is said on Thursday, we will include family members who are away and our soldiers far from home. And we will thank the Lord for our parents and for Weldon, Wanda’s husband, who will be right there with us in spirit around that table. We know that all of them are celebrating the day around the grandest Thanksgiving table of them all.
To Ronald and Julie, Wanda, Sharon and Al, and Midge and Clay – we can’t wait to get there and see ya’ll. And Clay, please put a little extra hay in that wagon – remember we are all a little older this year (smile).
To Jason and Blair – have a wonderful Thanksgiving with Blair’s family. To Blake – your Mom is loving the thought that you will be home from China next Thanksgiving for the first time in four years! To Julie, Matt, Jordan and Matthew – enjoy the time you are spending with your Mom and Bill, and we’ll be out to see you in Arkansas right after Christmas.
And to my readers – Happy Thanksgiving, safe travels, and may God bless each and every one of you.