Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday

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By Jack Smith

Thanksgiving was my father’s favorite holiday. It may have been his favorite day of the year.

He would rise early, whistling with gusto and singing silly songs in the shower, while mom did all the work in the kitchen.

Dad loved Thanksgiving because it was the one day of the year he was sure to see almost all of his Smith kin, most especially his five brothers and sisters. They were an unusually close set of siblings, their relationships forged by fire with the tragic early death of their mother, who died when the youngest was just an infant, and the premature death of their father, who died when my father was in college after living for years with a broken heart, never remarrying or even dating.

Every Thanksgiving morning, after watching Big Bird, Kermit and others float through Manhattan, we’d pile up in the station wagon and motor through the Wiregrass toward Geneva, home of my namesake. Uncle Jack and his sweet wife,  my Aunt Mill, hosted all the Smiths  every year. They fried up the best hand-breaded chicken fingers you’ve ever tasted and put out salty Apalachicola bay oysters before any of us even arrived. I ate more fat oysters on Saltines, dripping with tangy cocktail sauce, than one could count.

Mom always brought the mouth-watering homemade dressing, never cooked from a box. For years, she baked a plump turkey in the oven and made gravy from scratch.

Each time one of the siblings and their families arrived at Uncle Jack’s, they were greeted with an uproar as though a celebrity had just arrived. There were big hugs and smiles, laughter and commentary on how much the children, usually dressed in khakis and button down shirts we didn’t want to be wearing, had grown.

My cousin Mac was in charge of pouring and refilling the champagne, which made the day more fun and interesting as it went on.

My Aunt Janice, an attractive French teacher, and her husband, my Uncle Doug, were usually the last to arrive. The fun didn’t start until they had gotten settled in. One year,  Aunt Janice paraded around with a boom box, trying to lead us all in the singing of Handel’s Messiah. Another year, I remember her singing something in French and playing conductor on the back steps, trying to get the children too busy playing football to sing along. They didn’t.

Aunt Janice, who would hold her chin high while taking drags from her long cigarettes,  was always interested in me and told me she loved me.

My Uncle Maury was the family patriarch, an esteemed and brilliant attorney, always dapper in slacks and a stylish coat. He had a booming voice and a great laugh. Uncle Maury was more than an avid Alabama fan, he was a member of the university Board of Trustees. My favorite part of the day when I was a kid was making my annual $1 Iron Bowl bet with Uncle Maury. In years I’d win, he always sent me a crisp dollar in the mail with a gracious note. I’m not sure I ever paid him.

My Uncle John, who dad always said had more personality than most accountants, was less friendly to any Auburn fan, even his nephew. One miserable year when some demonic TV executives decided the Auburn-Alabama game should be played on Thanksgiving, we all gathered around the television at Uncle Jack’s. Uncle John drank a few Coors Lights, “Silver Bullets” he called them, and threw a yellow napkin at my feet on the floor every time Auburn got a penalty. It took me a while to get over that, but I did because he’s married to my Aunt Sarah, the kindest person I’ve ever known. (she went to Auburn).

Uncle Jack and Aunt Mill worked like dogs to make sure we all had plenty to eat and drink. They even put an addition with big windows on their house, mostly for our family reunion.

Uncle Bob, another attorney, always showed up wearing a coat and time, his graying hair neatly combed to the back. He always had a story about his children, my cousins who we loved to get into mischief with during our day in Geneva. Uncle Bob and Aunt June were kind and engaging, and I loved visiting with them even though they were Democrats. We didn’t talk politics.

Somehow, Uncle Jack, a contractor with all kinds of big toys on his spacious back lot, never lost his patience with the cousins who played around on his crane and even managed to crank up a diesel truck one year. We couldn’t turn it off, so Uncle Jack walked out back and shut down the throttling engine without saying a word.

As teenagers, one cousin and I snuck a half-empty bottle of champagne out of the house and went on a joyride in a field next door. Nobody seemed to notice.

It seemed to take hours for Aunt Mill, her sweet daughters and “the help” to put out all the food, a feast fit for a king. We all ate too much, laughed, and sometimes looked at pictures from the siblings’ childhood years or Thanksgivings past. Desert and coffee always followed while the Lions and some other team played a meaningless football game on the living room television.

It always ended too quickly, and we left with full bellies and heavy eyes. The drive home from Geneva to Eufaula was quiet, the autumn orange sun casting long shadows off the pine trees.

We made that trip to Geneva for more than 30 years of my life, and today I cherish those memories. My father, Uncle Jack, Aunt Mill, Uncle Maury, Aunt Cile and Aunt Janice are no longer with us.

What’s left of the larger Smith clan won’t gather today, but I know we will all reflect on those special days, we will all find something to smile about, and we will all go to bed with full bellies, grateful for the ties that bind, grateful for Thanksgiving memories, and grateful that God put us all on this earth together.

 

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12 thoughts on “Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday

  1. Jack,
    As someone with parents that have large families, the memories are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your memories today. I am absolutely positive that your family is extremely happy that you are here today to share the memories. Stay strong, you’ve got this.

    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Sarah

  2. Jack–Your column made me laugh and tear up. Thanksgiving was my dad’s favorite holiday, too. He was a true Southern boy, loving all the veggies we cooked for this special day–turnip greens, peas, corn, butterbeans, etc. This year makes nine years since we lost him and it will be the first traditional Thanksgiving we’ve had since he passed on. None of us have really been up to it because it was too emotional not having him with us but for some reason we will all come back together again this year. I hope your family has a blessed Thanksgiving Day! War Eagle!

  3. Caroline,
    So glad you enjoyed it. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Hope you had a great day.

  4. Once again you have brought a beautiful story into a vision of a real life experience. What a treasure chest of memories you have to pass on to your children. Now it is your turn, along with your brothers, to start your own traditions so that your children can one day tell their stories of how the Smiths celebrated Thanksgiving.

    I am so proud of you for going public with these illnesses ? I look forward to your blogs and the information you are providing. Hopefully, it will help someone else get help. Keep up the good work!

    As this Thanksgiving day comes to an end, I pray that we will all remember that this is not one day a year but one we should practice daily. May God continue to bless you and watch over you. Blessings.

  5. Jack what a blessing you are!! I LOVED being a part of your childhood thanksgiving holiday for 5 paragraphs, or more. I grew up on the other side of the country than my cousins and could only dream of holidays surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. For a moment I could feel what that was like. I was betting a dollar against Uncle Maury with you!! How special that you can recap so many memories today. I am thankful that you are healing and here this Thanksgiving. May God’s blessings continue to pour out over you and your precious family.
    “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

  6. Jack:

    Thanks for the memories. As I read, I reminisced of my own Thanksgivings from years past, filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom are gone now, and could not help but shed a tear or two. It all sounded so familiar – the food, the atmosphere and the fond memories. I thank the good Lord that He saw fit to raise me in the South. How I miss those days. Thank you for bringing those memories to life, once more, through your writing. I could read stories like this all day – maybe a book?

  7. Dear Jack,
    I am a retired sociology professor who taught at Jacksonville State University for
    thirty years. My twin sister and I grew up in Eufaula and knew your wonderful parents
    well. In fact, your mother taught us both World History at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Your dad would often have our pictures in the Eufaula Tribune.
    We both have advanced degrees, my sister in Family and Child Development and I in Sociology, particularly Marriage and Family. These lengthy comments will have to
    be edited as I could not find your email. Anna Neville, a good lifelong friend, told us
    about your blog.
    Our father, Dr. Clarence Bennett, was a general practitioner in Eufaula for 35 years.
    He suffered in his older years from clinical depression and we have had bouts of depression since we were about 18 years old. Stigma was much greater then.
    We were very interested in your blogs. We learned a lot from you and hope you
    and others can learn from us. Within the last year, I was diagnosed as bi-polar. The two best books that I have read on this subject are Beating Bi-polar by Bruce Levine
    and Dr. Jamison’s book, The Unquiet Mind.
    I have been treated for the last three years by Dr. Joseph Lucas, a prominent Birmingham psychiatrist. I have been hospitalized three times, most recently leaving
    Brookwood Hospital on November 14. I would like to find out how active the NAMI
    chapter is in the Auburn -Opelika area. This organization is the National Assocciation
    for Mental Illness and they have excellent programs and training programs for group
    coordinators. I would like to see if you and I could observe this group for its potential
    of helping others in the area. Why don’t we meet sometimes for lunch. We can meet
    any weekday , perhaps at the Amsterdam Café. If you let us know your schedule, we
    would certainly fit it in. We hope this letter finds you happy and at peace.
    Warmest regards,
    Carolyn Bennett Dunaway

  8. Jack, I was referred to your blog by a mutual friend. I am so grateful because you have given me hope that I never thought I would see again. God also spoke to me clearly once. I was praying for the strength to go to my friends for help. My analogy was jumping off a cliff not knowing if I would fall to my death or if there was a ledge just below to land safely. Distinctly I heard God whisper, “I will catch you”. Unfortunately it took me another 2 years to confide in them. I am new to your blog, but could you tell me if you’ve tried TMS? I also have undergone genetic testing and had similar results. I am scheduled to begin treatment in January and frankly I feel if this doesn’t work I won’t live to see the next option. Thank you again for blessing so many. You are truly a gift

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