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.