Dinner with the in-laws was always preceded by a lot of heavy-duty, Southern Baptist, down-home blessing and Amen-ing. For a good Catholic girl, raised in the “old” church with Gregorian chant and the “thou shalt nots” of hanging out with Protestants, all this was enough to give me hot flashes. Images of fire licking at the toes of my soul.
My father-in-law was raised on a farm in Fowler, CO where “pickin’s were slim” with an older farmer who “allowed how he could use the help” when the very young Johnny Lloyd’s mother couldn’t provide for both of her sons. He walked to school (it probably was uphill both ways!) and finished high school, doing homework after he’d finished chores. He was given a football scholarship at Western State (where he played every minute of every game for four years!) and traded a bedroom in a boarding house for carrying in the coal and keeping the furnace stoked. When football season ended, he played basketball. And baseball. He’d have gone out for the quilting team if it meant eating at the training table I have no doubt that he was thankful for every meal. Even the chicken and noodles that I’ve mentioned a few times.
For all I know, my mother-in-law’s “folks back in Mississippi” started the family tradition of having everyone at the Thanksgiving table offer up something for which they were particularly thankful that year. Granddaddy was always thankful for having a job that he loved, people that he loved and a table groaning under the weight of too much food. By the time my mother-in-law finished with her non-ending list of things we should all thank the good Lord for giving, the turkey was looking for a sweater and the mashed potatoes had goosebumps.
I was thankful, that first year, that I had the good sense to not second the motion when my sister-in-law, Tink, offered, “I’m thankful that I’m the last person at this table to have to give thanks because now we can eat. Amen.”
Coming from a table where holiday meals were mostly traditional (with a heavy infusion of pinto beans, tortillas and green chile), Southern food was a culture shock. All ya’ll ever et grits? Everything my mother-in-law-with-the-degree-in-home-economics cooked was either deep-fried or limp. Most vegetables, fresh or frozen, went into the pressure cooker until they were the consistency of library paste and had all the flavor thereof. With lots of butter and even more salt. Salty, buttery library paste. Except okra. That stuff will slide right on past your teeth, over the gums and “lookout, stomach, here she comes!” Leaving a trail of slime much like a snail crawling over a leaf.
When asked if I’d like some “greens,” I envisioned salad. Crisp red and green lettuce, juicy tomatoes, a few bits of onion (okay, slabs of onion). It was a staple side dish at home. I’ve even had dandelion greens that were darned tasty. But “greens”, to a Southerner (I capitalize this because my mother-in-law, bless her heart, would insist upon it) means something entirely different. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried collard greens. With butter and lots of salt.
So, this Thanksgiving, as I sit down at the table with a few friends and family, I’ll be thankful that my turkey is roasted, my vegetables firm (maybe buttered, but no salt) and the corn is on a cob and not served with a spoon. And I will be thankful that I didn’t have to spend every Thanksgiving in Hooper, or over in Ft. Garland, or in Hoehne or wherever Granddaddy Lloyd’s “ministry” to small school districts took him and that slice of Southern life and Southern ways that he took with him. Oh, and bless your heart on this Thanksgiving Day, too.