“Bring back dinner!” McCullough insists. The supper table, once the center of family conversation, has gone the way of soccer practices and work schedules, leaving little time to linger and reminisce.
But what better weekend than this American holiday, Thanksgiving, to soak up tales from two or three generations, to hear Uncle Ned tell about playing football with no lights on the field or slogging through mud with an Army platoon? And to give heft to the remembrances of women, grandmothers and aunts in town for the weekend. Teenage girls at Thanksgiving dinner are the beneficiaries of generations of the sisterhood whose lives, narrow as a kitchen with a wash tub, were changed through patience and grit. They made their way into the secretarial pool or law school, some becoming teachers and preachers, many living to see doors with their titles etched in glass.
How surprised would the family’s college freshman be to learn there was a time when couples could not work in the same office and be married? And what a sad, but unforgettable truth to hear personal stories of an old South, so lacking in acceptance, an African-American man had to cross the street rather than pass a white woman on a sidewalk.
There is a theory that today’s young adults do not have a connection to the past because time and miles have done away with visits to relatives, those living through cultural changes in this country whose stories are no longer part and parcel of our oral history.
We no longer sit at the feet of our grandparents as they recall life on the farm, autumn days of school closings so cotton could be picked. When I told my young grandsons I helped my grandmother gather eggs, they were skeptical. Surely, eggs came from cartons in the grocery store!
Norman Rockwell’s iconic portrait of an American family’s Thanksgiving, the cover of a 1943 Saturday Evening Post magazine, was titled: “Freedom From Want.”
For a country at war, the magazine cover was a reminder of their president, FDR’s, vision of a world guaranteeing freedoms of worship, speech, a healthy life and one in which swords were turned into plough shares.
Rockwell etched in memory a family of the time, a strong father with the weathered face of a farmer, standing aside, deferring to his wife, still in her apron, as she proudly placed a platter with a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey on the table.
The faces of family around that table are all ages, all smiles. Yet the news from those who had driven home for the day had to be sobering. There were sons to be prayed for, boys fighting in countries unknown to these God-fearing people.
And there were crops to fret over. But by the time the pumpkin pie was cut, surely the family had gathered their roots about them like a cloak, finding strength in sharing food and holding hands around the table.
Perhaps we fail to share our stories because they are not writ large in life.
For most of us, there are no statues in town squares listing our forbears’ names. Yet, life experiences, shared around a table, do take root in young minds.
At Thanksgiving gatherings, I often heard stories about my great-grandfather, a small town Georgia lawyer, paid in pole beans and hams during the Great Depression. The Klan burned a cross in his yard when he defended a black man accused of stealing. Though I never met him, my great-grandfather became my Atticus Finch. When I’ve had to speak up, the tales of his quiet courage stiffen my spine and give my uncertain voice, conviction.
Today, we “bring back dinner,” a time to share stories. They matter. Family matters. God bless this country as many become one, sharing a meal, giving thanks.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.