We All Came Together

I pulled into my sister’s driveway off Old Norton Road, only a few miles from downtown Fayetteville. It’s a narrow, paved lane, barely wide enough for my truck, that falls away at a slight downhill slant toward a gap in the trees just above her house. To the left is a wide expanse of grass, recently mown with all the leaves scattered down the hill.

There’s a kind of a hush that falls over you when you enter this property. Beyond the grass is a stand of tall pines mixed with sweetgum and hickory. The canopy is high so that you can see all the way through the trees to a small lake that lays perfectly still in the draw at the bottom of the hill and behind the house.

The hush comes because I’m only a few hundred yards from a busy traffic light on a four-lane highway. Thousands of cars chasing their destinations for places unknown to me. The hurried pace leads to other traffic lights and other retail conglomerates spread out for miles.

But you top the little hill down into this hidden spot and the noise seems to go away. Deflected, I suppose, by the canopy overhead. You pass through the gap between the trees and this low-profile house with its mature trees and ancient camellias beckons you a warm welcome. It’s a little like stepping through the urban looking glass and finding a little bit of wonderland.

When Marian and Paul decided to leave their home of nearly 30 years on Lenox Road in Atlanta, she said to me, “We’re moving to the country.”

I gave her a hard time for thinking of anything around Fayetteville as ‘the country.’ I understood that moving from a postage-stamp sized lot in the city to a home on six acres was going to be a big change. But I quietly chuckled at the notion of this place being in the country.

I live 30 minutes from the nearest Publix. She is no more than 5 minutes from her choice of two Publix stores. It’s not exactly what I would call rural Georgia.

But I have to tell you, their place is a gem of a hide-away. Quiet. Serene. Nestled out of sight beyond the road and far enough away from the highway that one could easily imagine the solitude of country living. In fact, there’s plenty of room for hogs and chickens if they were so inclined.

It’s Friday, and I am here for Thanksgiving. Like a lot of people, we get together for the big meal when we can. Thursday was not going to be the day for us due to other holiday commitments within the family, so we held off an extra day to make it all work for everyone.

I step through the door to the kitchen from the carport, and immediately I am hit by aroma overload.

“Hey, he’s not using the front door. Guess everybody is coming straight for the food.” This is my brother-in-law speaking to no one in particular but to my sister and me in general.

Paul has been the designated chef on many of our family gatherings. He studies food. He experiments with tastes and textures. He has paid good money to cook alongside some of the finest chefs in Atlanta. As a result, when we gather at his table, we have never been disappointed.

My girls brought in dishes of dressing and macaroni and cheese. One brought a chilled cranberry sauce with real cranberries in one hand, and in the other, just to be safe on my account, a can of cranberry sauce that we sliced and put on its own dish.

The dining room table is set with places for 8 adults and one open corner for an infant seat. There’s a card table over by the far wall with a linen tablecloth and 3 small chairs. The kids table.

I remember it well. Sixty years ago, ours had a yellow top with black metal legs, and two small matching yellow chairs. Kids three and four sat on short wooden stools that my dad made just for that purpose.

The kids’ table is designed to give the adults some space. Let the grownups have grownup conversations without all the interruptions from the kids. But physical separation in the same room at mealtime does not always convert to peace and quiet for Mom & Dad.

“Julie. Quit pouting and eat your beans.”

“Mommie, can you cut my turkey for me. I can’t cut my turkey. Mommie!”

“Timmy, you hold that glass with both hands.”

“Kurt! Kurt! Look at me. Keep your fingers out of your sister’s food.”

“Daddy. Stephen rubbed cranberries on my shirt. Make him stop.”

“Can I have pie, now. I want pie.”

“Johnny. If I have to tell you one more time that there’s no pie until you clean your plate, we’re going outside; and I’m here to tell ya’, you’re not going to like what we’re gonna do outside. Do you hear me?”

This day, in this house, is as familiar to my mind as any Thanksgiving over the last sixty years. The rooms and walls may be different. Some of the faces have changed. New ones appearing. Old ones gone from sight. But the gathering and the chatter and the food and the laughter and the smells and the patter of fork and knife on the plate, the blessing for the food, the sound of ice in a tea glass.

It’s all the same.

For a moment, it feels like we are all together. Like one continuous gathering of the people in my life who have come and gone around a table like this one.

I see Ramey Still, my mama’s father, born 1901. Once upon a time, he held my oldest daughter who was then my only child and just a baby. She is 37 now with children of her own. I see his face at my mama’s table.

I see Aunt Francis sitting on the couch in Selma and her baby brother, Marshall, Beth’s dad. I see Miss Gloria with a platter of sliced ham and all of us trying to squeeze in around one small table in the corner of her kitchen. Beth’s mom loved her family.

For some reason, this year the holiday feels like all the memories of every Thanksgiving I’ve ever lived all rolled into one. Like it’s not just the 8 of us around the table. More like the spirits of Thanksgiving past have found their way into my memories, vivid and alive.

It may be because I knew that, later in the day, Marian and I would visit with a cousin of ours we had not seen in a while. It may be that I heard a hint of Beth’s voice in something one of the girls said. It may be that as I said the blessing before the meal, I was aware that I had taken on a duty that always belonged to my dad.

Whatever the reason, we all came together. No, I’m not seeing things. I’m just full of gratitude.

And full of turkey.

One thought on “We All Came Together

  1. As I read this I was visualizing my own family members around my grandmother’s table at Thanksgiving. The kids table in the kitchen… being the oldest grandchild I remember the thanksgiving I graduated to the adult table… beautiful memories.. thank you.

    Like

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