I love all holidays, especially Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite one in November.
I love it that people get together to give thanks for all kinds of things, and I love it that people get together and eat.
I remember the Thanksgivings from when I was a girl. We always had the same traditional meal. To me it seemed so special – something you can count on as staying the same. Kids need to have something they can count on as unchanging.
Granny, Grandma and Mom would start clanging around in the kitchen several days before the big day, Granny and Grandma mostly, because Mom had to keep the store open. Granny would cook the pumpkin pies ahead of time, and she would always make Jerry one or two special ones. By that I mean pumpkin pie without spices. Yuck. I asked Granny to make me a special one, but she just handed me one of the regular pies. I ate anything put in front of me.
The meal was always turkey cooked in an oval, blue enamel roasting pan with a lid. Granny would put it in and check it a few times to see if the leg was loose. When the leg was loose, it was done.
We had cornbread stuffing, only it was cooked in a pan and not stuffed in the turkey. We had creamed corn that had been put in the freezer the summer before, green beans we had canned and mashed potatoes with lots of gravy. There was cranberry sauce from a can that we pushed out so carefully to keep the rings intact. And, of course, Mom’s sweet potato casserole with marshmallows toasted on top.
Just before we started eating, Mom would grab the dinner rolls with the little grooves on top from the oven, throw them in a basket and then we would say the blessing.
Mom would sit at the end of the table so she could jump up and run into the kitchen to bring out just one more tidbit or refill serving dishes.
Many friends describe almost the same dinner, with only minor changes.
When I heard the same story from Mrs. (Joan) Jamison and Mrs. (Hazel) Middleton the first year I taught with them in Killian Annex, I thought “why don’t we do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner here at school?”
Turned out they both felt the same way I did about Thanksgiving so, along with our students, we started making dinner every year for the students’ families and friends.
Mrs Jamison would bring in beans she’d grown, and we would work with the kids to string and break them. We even canned them in class. We cut corn and took it home to freeze. We ritually “killed” a pumpkin and cooked it down for the pies. The kids practiced the Thanksgiving story so they could tell their families about how the Pilgrims came on the Mayflower and the Wampanoag Indians saved them from a harsh winter by feeding them maize. The Pilgrims in turn shared their harvest with their Indian friends the next fall, and that was the first Thanksgiving.
I’m not sure, but I think this year’s Nov. 13 event was our 37th class Thanksgiving dinner.
We have served so many people over the years. Steve and Eva Jones were always with us as bus drivers and as parents, and Dr. Charlie McConnell never missed a meal while he was superintendent. When our classroom was in the Killian Building, all the folks across the hall in the Developmental Evaluation Center came. Arlin Middleton was there for every meal while he was principal – his mother would make sure of that.
Mrs. Middleton would scrub the children until they were red, and Mrs Jamison would go over their manners. Once while Linda Kotila was working with us, she made pilgrim outfits for us all to wear.
When we moved into the new Cullowhee Valley building. Mrs. Jamison had just retired and Alana Powell (now Alana Fisher) was working with me. We did not do a dinner that first year, 1995, but we started again in 1996 and have continued every year since.
We start planning early. First I tell the Thanksgiving story, then we plan the menu and, without fail, the kids start with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. They add dressing, green beans and maize (corn), then pumpkin pie. I have to talk them into rolls and cranberry sauce.
Next we make the shopping list. Nowadays we make it on the SMARTboard (a very large computer screen) and add pictures to take on our trip to Ingles. The kids carry the list and find the groceries. While we’re there, we have our picture made with the biggest turkey in the store.
When we get back to school we check to make sure we have everything and take a rest, knowing we will start cooking on Monday.
We make pies on Monday and this year they were really special – we left out the sugar. On the list we had put pumpkin pie filling, but somehow we got back to school with cans of straight pumpkin. Eight pumpkin pies, very plain. Even the whipped cream topping didn’t help. At least Principal Kathryn Kantz told us our pie was good; she is a good woman.
The day before the dinner we make the cornbread dressing (see page 1C). Kim Carver is in charge of it with the kids having a hand in it, both hands to be exact. They cut the celery and onions with plastic knives. The kids peeled the potatoes, too. These kids love to help cook. They especially love to break eggs, and I love to dig out shells, so we had several very successful cooking lessons.
Last Thursday was my last Thanksgiving dinner with the kids at school. Mrs. Jamison and Alana came, which made it very special for me. This year’s turnout was wonderful. All the families and friends of the students came. The kids performed Thanksgiving songs and were on their best behavior with great manners. I was more than proud.
I want to thank everyone who helped with the school meal: Kim Carver and Tonya Williams for keeping the kitchen going (I tend to get distracted, turn things on high and leave the room); Nina Webb for all the lovely art and crafts she helped the kids with; intern Peyton Young for doing the unit on apples and making applesauce with the students; Anita Coggins for rotating the kids in and out of the kitchen; Aaron Tuttle for taking the kids outside when they were supposed to; Katee Johnson for teaching them the Thanksgiving songs; Sue McGaha for doing the final cleaning; and Linda Chermak and Jan Miller for volunteering to help with the meal.