Thanksgiving Day, Mid-1960s

Coffee can in a field behind my grandmother’s house, 2007

I lived in Petersburg, Virginia, during the first three years I was in elementary school. But only one year do I remember having thanksgiving there, with a turkey my father shot while deer hunting on the Nottingway River. The other two years, we headed back to Moore County, North Carolina for Thanksgiving. The song, “Over the hills and through the woods, to grandma’s house we’d go,” played in my head as we drove through the night. We’d leave Wednesday afternoon, after school and after my dad finished work. This way, we were in Pinehurst for Thanksgiving morning and would drive home on Sunday. On one occasion, all the men of Culdee Presbyterian gathered for breakfast and a brief worship service. Perhaps this was designed to keep the men from interfering with things in the kitchen. It may have been the same trip, that all the men at my grandparents’ home went out hunting in the afternoon. My grandfather knew better than to get into my grandmother’s way in the kitchen. 

We gathered in my grandparents’ front yard and crossed Juniper Lake Road, heading back to a field by the foundations of a house long gone. I’d been here many times. Once my uncle took my brother and me to a graveyard out behind where the house once stood. He told us of the folks buried there. Each grave was marked with a metal plaque welded to a metal post and stuck in the ground. I’d seen such markers before, on freshly dug graves in the cemetery by the church. These types of markers would stand until replaced with a tombstone. Larry concocted a story about these folks being too poor to buy any permanent tombstone. It just didn’t right to hunt in a graveyard and I expressed my concern and quickly learned that we’d been duped. There had been no cemetery. My uncle and his friends had collected the grave markers from the trash from the cemetery by the church and created a make-believe graveyard. 

This may have been my Uncle Larry’s first hunt. He was probably twelve or thirteen. I was six or seven. My brother and I were too young to have a gun. There by the old foundation, Dad and my grandfather consulted. Larry would go out point, with his youth model shot gun. My dad with his 12-gauge pump, followed by my brother, skirted the south side of the field, through the sumac. I was glad that I wasn’t going with Dad for I never liked the look of sumac, especially in the fall as the dried black berries drooped down, creating an image for me that would give Freud a field day. I stayed with my grandfather, and we worked the north edge of the field. Granddaddy held his Browning double-barrel with both hands, the gun crossing his chest. I walked in his steps a few feet behind. We skirted along the edge of the sand hill, where the land dropped toward Nick’s Creek. 

Time moved slowly as we crossed the field in anticipation. Rabbits might be hiding in the broomsedge. Quail often concealed themselves under clumps of wire grass. I had flushed out coveys before, when not hunting, and the sudden beating of the birds’ wings as they took to flight made my heart stop. But this time, we were ready, knowing if a covey flushed, it’d be over in a second. Sadly, we found no birds, nor did we see any rabbits. After this field, we headed through woods, under longleaf pines and by blackjack oaks. Like before, we crossed through a few older fields grown up in broomsedge before heading home empty handed. No one had even fired a shot. 

It was late afternoon as we stepped into the house. There, grandma, and mom had just finished preparing our Thanksgiving feast. We finally saw the only bird that mattered that day, a big one, already clean, basted, roasted, and browned. It sat tall in the in the center of the table, surrounded by all kinds of goodies. By the time we were done was just a carcass awaiting the soup pot. 

I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.

18 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Day, Mid-1960s”

  1. Memories are made in the fields of forests of Michigan, North Carolina or New York. Stalking the fields in search of the ring neck or rabbit will never be forgotten. Now it the buck stomping his foot and grunting, knowing you are there but can’t locate you and finally fleeing without you firing a shot. Thankfully, our larder is full. Jim.

    • It is a good memory. But surprisingly (or maybe not), I spent more time outdoors this year with a 5 mile hike and some time working on my basement. Since COVID, all holidays have been pretty low-key.

    • As I have replied to another, a fresh turkey raised on a range will beat a butterball any day. Wild turkeys are okay, but you have to make sure you get all the shot out.

      • As a 12-year-old, I achieved my Marksman badge with the National Junior Rifle Association. As an adult, I want nothing to do with guns. I went hunting with an old boyfriend once; I was bored silly and very cold.

        We had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year….the whole family came and I didn’t have to do the cooking!

  2. Lovely memories. I’ve never tasted wild turkey, though for years I always prepared wild goose for our Thanksgiving dinner (along with a store bought turkey).

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    • The turkey my grandmother fixed was store brought. My dad only shot one turkey and I remember having to pick out the pellets from his shotgun. Years later, I had a hunter in the church who gave me several wild turkeys over the years–I smoked most of them. The best turkey I’ve ever had, however, was from range fed store in Michigan. You could buy a butterball for 1/2 the price, but a fresh bird that wasn’t cooped up all the time was a lot better.

  3. What a great Thanksgiving Day story, Jeff. I could practically smell that roasted turkey, stuffed and ready to carve. And I agree with the premise that the non-cooks should steer clear of the kitchen.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiviing.

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