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Thanksgiving in Xenia and Wilberforce: Now and then!

22 Nov

My family did not have relatives in Xenia, my mother, father, brother, sister and I were all we had. My other relatives lived in North Carolina and Virginia. I do not think it ever even occurred to us to invite them to our house for Thanksgiving or to go to their houses for Thanksgiving. I do not know if we were invited, but I know we never went. Instead we had our own family traditions that revolved around just us.

As I recall church was a big part of Thanksgiving, even though it was Sunday and Turkey Day was not until Thursday. We always had some drive, or campaign to feed the hungry. Because it was Zion Baptist we did not actually invite the poor and hungry to the church, I mean ewww. No, we did it the  remote philanthropic way and gathered up food brought by Sunday Schoolers and others, bought some turkeys and stuck it all in baskets put together by the various ladies’ clubs, the Missionary Society, the Ever-ready Club or one of the other good works groups and had it delivered by the deacons and other church male leaders. I never wondered, let alone questioned, why the work having been done by the women—running the canned food drive, packing the baskets, etc., the baskets were always delivered by the men.

Maybe they were worried about the women’s safety going to poor folks’ houses, or maybe they thought being around poor people would disturb their dainty sensibilities.

For whatever reason Thanksgiving when I was a child included riding shotgun with my father while he delivered charity baskets to poor people.  The poor people we generally visited to deliver baskets to, my father standing on the porch with the basket in his arms, me standing beside him smiling and wondering what exactly I was supposed to do, fell into three categories; widows—with or without children, the elderly, and the families of men who were deemed feckless and useless by the community.

I do not know if my father had me go with him for company or to use it as an object lesson about what it meant if you were poor. Perhaps he wanted me to develop a sense of responsibility for helping those who had less than we did. My oldest son, Michael, has always dragged his children to every kind of charity walk, march, collection, etc., and his stated objective is to make them understand the responsibility of those who have more than they need to those who have less. Maybe that is what my father was trying to do as well. Or maybe he did not want to go on a basically depressing trip on his own. While it was uplifting to help those less fortunate  it was often also disturbing to see just how unfortunate they were.

Having accomplished our charitable duties it was now time for us to enjoy our own holiday feast. I can remember my mother’s harried behavior as she roasted the turkey, whipped the potatoes, baked the yams and pushed the inevitable macaroni and cheese into the oven.  By the time I was 12 I was in charge of two duties, polishing the furniture (unfortunately my mother’s taste ran to mahogany wood. If you have ever had to polish mahogany tables with Old English furniture polish you feel my pain), and set the table.

The setting of the table was a very important duty and I can remember being very honored when my mother passed the torch to me.  I considered it a coup that  was awarded such a fabulous responsibility. My older sister, Barbara, was born without the domesticity gene. She was much more interested in whether her bra matched her panties than in whether or not the fork went on the left of the plate or the right.

I, on the other hand, channeled Martha Stewart before I ever heard of her.

For Thanksgiving dinner we pulled out all the stops, especially after I became the doyenne of the dinner table. My mother’s good china, the goblets from Paris that had belonged to my grandmother ( I have no idea how she got goblets from Paris, but that was the legend) , the cranberry dish, the turkey platter—with a turkey painted on it , the round platter for the relish tray , the blue and gold coffee cups that were so thin it seemed you could snap them with your fingers and were lined with some kind of glass that changed colors,  and my favorite, the frog that was used to put in the bottom of the vase to hold the flower stems upright properly. I wonder how many people under the age of fifty even know what a florist frog is?

One thing my fashion plate sister could do and liked to do was iron. I never liked to iron and to this day believe anything that has to be ironed should be left in the store.

But Barbara was a wizard with an iron and ironing board and it was her duty to launder and starch and get the damask tablecloth and napkins that were only used at Easter and Thanksgiving ready for their Turkey Day appearance.  This had to be accomplished when the heavy fabric was wet, so copious amounts of steam rose from the ironing board as she went over each section repeatedly, taking it from damp and limp to dry and glorious.  To this day the smell of steam on fabric reminds me of holiday dinners.

We often had company for dinner,  my mother, or particularly my father, was fond of inviting “strays” to Thanksgiving dinner. Students from Wilberforce University who could not go home for the holiday—we had one memorable Thanksgiving when an African student in full African costume visited us and I was struck with awe by his exotic garb and accent, miscellaneous people from church, or from time to time a couple that did not have any children, etc.

If we were having company for dinner it meant we had to have two sets of goblets apiece. One for water and one for wine, although mine was going to have Kool-aid, in it of course.  As the table décor diva I was not happy to have to compromise my grandmother’s glorious goblets with more mundane stemware that lacked its pedigree, but I begrudgingly added the inferior glasses to the table when required to do so. I do not remember my parents having wine for Thanksgiving dinner unless we had company. Actually, about the only time anyone ever opened the liquor cabinet for any reason was when we had company.  This was also the only time we had ginger ale in the house, so they could use it for mixers I presume. Ginger ale still reminds me of company.

Having company also meant extra cleaning. Not only was I to polish all the furniture I had to do the banister on the stairs as well. My father would be expected to bring home the buffer from work, a huge industrial, loud thing that he would run over the hardwood floors after my brother and sister had painstakingly crawled around on their hands and knees spreading Johnson’s paste wax  on rags on every board.  After my father, and later when he was big enough,  my brother, ran the gigantic buffer over the floors ( a process sometimes interrupted by the machine causing a fuse to blow and have to be replaced)  they shone like glass, and in some cases were almost as slippery.

So, with the house clean, the floors shining, the damask draped table set with the good china and silver ( do families still have silver they keep tucked in lined cases until holidays?) and flowers and the smells of turkey coming from the kitchen we were ready to give thanks. I do not know what the rest of them gave thanks for, but I generally gave thanks that we did not have to do all this for another year.

Oddly enough, as soon as I had my own family I began, and continue to, replicate it as closely as I can.  I want my grandchildren to at least have had some meals where there are place cards, flowers, tablecloths ( not damask—no ironing remember) and good china.  I sincerely hope to go join the choir invisible without ever having had  to endure a Thanksgiving dinner  served on a paper plate (shudder).  I know that my thoughts on holiday dinners are no doubt the minority viewpoint these days. We traditionalists are an endangered species, after all in many, many ways!

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with good food, great traditions and happy memories. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Wilberforce/Xenia: Now and then

 

My family did not have relatives in Xenia, my mother, father, brother, sister and I were all we had. My other relatives lived in North Carolina and Virginia. I do not think it ever even occurred to us to invite them to our house for Thanksgiving or to go to their houses for Thanksgiving. I do not know if we were invited, but I know we never went. Instead we had our own family traditions that revolved around just us.

 

As I recall church was a big part of Thanksgiving, even though it was Sunday and Turkey Day was not until Thursday. We always had some drive, or campaign to feed the hungry. Because it was Zion Baptist we did not actually invite the poor and hungry to the church, I mean ewww. No, we did it the  remote philanthropic way and gathered up food brought by Sunday Schoolers and others, bought some turkeys and stuck it all in baskets put together by the various ladies’ clubs, the Missionary Society, the Ever-ready Club or one of the other good works groups and had it delivered by the deacons and other church male leaders. I never wondered, let alone questioned, why the work having been done by the women—running the canned food drive, packing the baskets, etc., the baskets were always delivered by the men.

Maybe they were worried about the women’s safety going to poor folks’ houses, or maybe they thought being around poor people would disturb their dainty sensibilities.

 

For whatever reason Thanksgiving when I was a child included riding shotgun with my father while he delivered charity baskets to poor people.  The poor people we generally visited to deliver baskets to, my father standing on the porch with the basket in his arms, me standing beside him smiling and wondering what exactly I was supposed to do, fell into three categories; widows—with or without children, the elderly, and the families of men who were deemed feckless and useless by the community.

 

I do not know if my father had me go with him for company or to use it as an object lesson about what it meant if you were poor. Perhaps he wanted me to develop a sense of responsibility for helping those who had less than we did. My oldest son, Michael, has always dragged his children to every kind of charity walk, march, collection, etc., and his stated objective is to make them understand the responsibility of those who have more than they need to those who have less. Maybe that is what my father was trying to do as well. Or maybe he did not want to go on a basically depressing trip on his own.

 

Having accomplished our charitable duties it was now time for us to enjoy our own holiday feast. I can remember my mother’s harried behavior as she roasted the turkey, whipped the potatoes, baked the yams and pushed the inevitable macaroni and cheese into the oven.  By the time I was 12 I was in charge of two duties, polishing the furniture (unfortunately my mother’s taste ran to mahogany wood. If you have ever had to polish mahogany tables with Old English furniture polish you feel my pain), and set the table.

The setting of the table was a very important duty and I can remember being very honored when my mother passed the torch to me.  I considered it a coup that  was awarded such a fabulous responsibility. My older sister, Barbara, was born without the domesticity gene. She was much more interested in whether her bra matched her panties than in whether or not the fork went on the left of the plate or the right.

I, on the other hand, channeled Martha Stewart before I ever heard of her.

 

For Thanksgiving dinner we pulled out all the stops, especially after I became the doyenne of the dinner table. My mother’s good china, the goblets from Paris that had belonged to my grandmother ( I have no idea how she got goblets from Paris, but that was the legend) , the cranberry dish, the turkey platter—with a turkey painted on it , the round platter for the relish tray , the blue and gold coffee cups that were so thin it seemed you could snap them with your fingers and were lined with some kind of glass that changed colors,  and my favorite, the frog that was used to put in the bottom of the vase to hold the flower stems upright properly. I wonder how many people under the age of fifty even know what a florist frog is?

 

One thing my fashion plate sister could do and liked to do was iron. I never liked to iron and to this day believe anything that has to be ironed should be left in the store.

But Barbara was a wizard with an iron and ironing board and it was her duty to launder and starch and get the damask tablecloth and napkins that were only used at Easter and Thanksgiving ready for their Turkey Day appearance.  This had to be accomplished when the heavy fabric was wet, so copious amounts of steam rose from the ironing board as she went over each section repeatedly, taking it from damp and limp to dry and glorious.  To this day the smell of steam on fabric reminds me of holiday dinners.

 

We often had company for dinner,  my mother, or particularly my father, was fond of inviting “strays” to Thanksgiving dinner. Students from Wilberforce University who could not go home for the holiday—we had one memorable Thanksgiving when an African student in full African costume visited us and I was struck with awe by his exotic garb and accent, miscellaneous people from church, or from time to time a couple that did not have any children, etc.

 

 

If we were having company for dinner it meant we had to have two sets of goblets apiece. One for water and one for wine, although mine was going to have Kool-aid, in it of course.  As the table décor diva I was not happy to have to compromise my grandmother’s glorious goblets with more mundane stemware that lacked its pedigree, but I begrudgingly added the inferior glasses to the table when required to do so. I do not remember my parents having wine for Thanksgiving dinner unless we had company. Actually, about the only time anyone ever opened the liquor cabinet for any reason was when we had company.  This was also the only time we had ginger ale in the house, so they could use it for mixers I presume. Ginger ale still reminds me of company.

 

Having company also meant extra cleaning. Not only was I to polish all the furniture I had to do the banister on the stairs as well. My father would be expected to bring home the buffer from work, a huge industrial, loud thing that he would run over the hardwood floors after my brother and sister had painstakingly crawled around on their hands and knees spreading Johnson’s paste wax  on rags on every board.  After my father, and later when he was big enough,  my brother, ran the gigantic buffer over the floors ( a process sometimes interrupted by the machine causing a fuse to blow and have to be replaced)  they shone like glass, and in some cases were almost as slippery.

 

So, with the house clean, the floors shining, the damask draped table set with the good china and silver ( do families still have silver they keep tucked in lined cases until holidays?) and flowers and the smells of turkey coming from the kitchen we were ready to give thanks. I do not know what the rest of them gave thanks for, but I generally gave thanks that we did not have to do all this for another year.

 

Oddly enough, as soon as I had my own family I began, and continue to, replicate it as closely as I can.  I want my grandchildren to at least have had some meals where there are place cards, flowers, tablecloths ( not damask—no ironing remember) and good china.  I sincerely hope to go join the choir invisible without ever having had  to endure a Thanksgiving dinner  served on a paper plate (shudder).  I know that my thoughts on holiday dinners are no doubt the minority viewpoint these days. We traditionalists are an endangered species, after all in many, many ways!

 

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with good food, great traditions and happy memories. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

Posted by on November 22, 2010 in Xenia

 

4 responses to “Thanksgiving in Xenia and Wilberforce: Now and then!

  1. richard

    November 22, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Great read,
    As a youngster pre-60’s we would have Thanksgiving to Dinner at home,maybe at my Aunt Grace ‘s or Uncle Bill’s and sometimes at Aunt Edith’s or Uncle Percy’s. Aunt Edith and Uncle Percy’swere more memorable altho i don’t have very good memories of any. But Edith and Percy each had homes in St. Albans Queens in the 50’s the residences of African Americans who had made it. Edith lived with Grandpa Mann, Thomas who had attained some stature in the real estate business in NY. He had been in Real Estate in Hampton before he left(HU has an article about his departure, not flattering,and maybe the reason for our estrangement from the family in Va.)
    Percy’s wife Aunt Lillian was from a decidely upward mobile family ,the Keyes from Baltimore or DC her sister had danced in Europe with the famed Katherine Dunham group. So visits to Uncle Percy’s were always very formal.
    Aunt Edith was a “caterer ” (cook to me for a living) so her dinners were elaborate and very tasty.
    My real memories of thanksgiving begin in the middle 60’s by then I was married and had a family my three oldest daughters were born by then ,my first wife Constance came from a large family 5 or 6 brothers and three sisters, she was the second youngest child.
    Generally speaking both Thanksgiving and Christmas was spent at a large family gathering.
    Usually at her sisters Marilyn’s or Lavania’s or her brother Larry’s and later Alan’s.Those attending might bring food , a dish,they liked to make ,desserts, or drinks soda’s and alcohol. Only Larry lived in an apartment,but it was a large apartment,everyone did not always arrive for dinner but many did, I had three children Marilyn had two daughters ,Lavania had two natural and at least three foster children who she adopted when the reached 18 ,sometimes she had L as many as five or six children ,So you can see the crowds.There were the football games on TV ,board games and later computer cames etc. which kept everyone busy while the meals were prepared. Of course alcohol was drunk ,I don’t recall any wine and I don’t recall anyone ever getting drunk except maybe Connies brother Gilbert but he would only be at the affairs at Larry’s as he lived near Larry. He did not own an auto had at least two daughters and trips to my house in Queens were a bit lengthy by public transportation and to Lavania’s ,they lived on Long Island,were out of the question.Of course we had to fit in my sister on these holiday’s because she was my only one and her husband was by far the best cook in the World bar none. His holiday meals were magazine picture perfect, 5 star deluxe restuarant tasty, and served at the perfect temperature ,everything. Also my parents would be at my sister’s.
    So it was hard to have a meal at home as we were in demand. Hosts feelings would be hurt if we did not come by or if when we did we did not eat b/c we said we had been to someone else’s house for dinner and could not even have dessert.
    But the real cheer was just being with those family members and talking about things,(we were in communication regularly and attended all kind of other family affairs )but being in the “Holiday Spirit ” seemed to make the visits so much more enjoyable. There were several other family that upon occassion we would have “Holiday dinner ” with but those were ocassional happenings with relatives we only communed with on special occasions.
    I sometime wondered about the family in Virginia especially when the once or twice we visted Constance relatives in Cheaspeake area.

     
  2. Mary Beth King

    November 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Cookie, I still have my mother’s silver in it’s cases that I use only for holiday dinners. I am thoroughly enjoying reminiscing right along with you, so keep it coming!

     
  3. Catherine

    December 2, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I not only know what a florist’s frog is, I have one or two, and have used them.

     
  4. Mark

    December 3, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Again, thanks for these great memories. I love your writing style. At the First Baptist Church in Xenia, we often had many Nigerian students from Wilberforce and Central State visit our church and they were often in our home. Especially around the holidays. I had the good fortune of going to Nigeria in 2005 for a week on church business.

    My Mom was Italian so the holidays always consisted of making the Italian cookies and Italian donuts and getting the lasagna ready among other things. And yes, we had the special silverware and china as well.

     

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