Saturday, April 4, 2015

'Season brings back fond holiday memories'

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Season brings back fond holiday memories,” was originally published in the Nov. 24, 1994 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

As the old saying goes, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can never take the country out of the boy.” No truer words have ever been spoken.

I consider myself a very lucky person growing up in a farming community in the South. And as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, a lot of fond memories come to mind.

Thinking back to those good old days, I will yet say that those of you who have never celebrated and old country Thanksgiving have missed a great and important event in your life and are much poorer for it.

Our society and its struggle to reach for the moon has put the cart before the horse in many instances, and we have lost a lot of our priorities. Today is Nov. 20, 1994, and already the struggle is on to get the public into the shopping-for-Christmas fever.

I enjoy Christmas as much as anyone, but I think we should celebrate Christmas at Christmas time. Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to downgrade the celebration of Christmas in any way. Perhaps, I write of the past too much, but journey with me for a moment or two for the celebration of a country Thanksgiving.

Started the day before

Thanksgiving at our house always started to take shape on Wednesday, the day before the holiday. This was the time when all the work around the farm began to shut down for the holiday. The wonderful smells from the kitchen most times prompted a detour from the evening chores for a small boy. To slip by the kitchen and maybe get a delicious taste of some of the goodies being prepared for the next day just might be possible. Or perhaps just to get a tender, loving look at the beautiful cakes or the many pies cooling on the table.

If my oldest sister was at the mixing bowl, a chance to lick the mixing spoon before the dishes were washed might be in order. Maybe a small piece of pecan candy might find its way into the mouth of a small boy who never stopped walking through the kitchen. Because if you should stop for long, the supreme commander, my mother, hastened you on your way, and her word was law.

Aunt Lellia, the old lady who delivered me at birth, also looked out for me. I could always count on a popcorn ball, sweetened with honey or a handful of roasted pecans when my mother’s back was turned. After about two or three detours through the kitchen, the final order was given and the finishing of the evening chores resumed without delay.

The smell of burning wood in the open fireplace only made the hunger pains worse as the evening shadows slowly crept across the front yard. Always, the supper meal was a grand preview of what the Thanksgiving dinner would be like. The waiting for the call to supper only added to the misery.

The thoughts of the after-supper storytelling and the strange notes from Grandpa’s bagpipes as he made the final tuning and adjustments, promised more for a wonderful time that was to come later in the evening.

A supper meal too wonderful to describe came to an end as the family moved to the front room and picked out their favorite spots for the events ahead. My mother and the other ladies quickly cleaned the kitchen and dishes and were then given a special place of honor around the warm, roaring fireplace.

The talking and laughter would give way to the sounds of Grandpa’s bagpipes, as the first notes of “Scotland the Brave” filled the air. Then old man Kilpatrick would step forth in his Scottish kilt and dance to the tune of “Bonnie Lassie.” After Grandpa and old man Kilpatrick tired of dancing and playing the bagpipes, the serious storytelling got underway.

As the flickering firelight caused the shadows to dance awkwardly across the room, a small boy listened wide-eyed and in total amazement. From his place in the woodbox, the stories of the great Civil War and its aftermath caused chills to race up and down his spine, as he sat there absorbed in those hair-raising stories from another time.

Call for bedtime

The children’s call for bedtime sent myself and my sister scurrying off to bed as the older folks stayed around the fire and talked of more serious matters. Under the security of a layer of heavy bed covers, the thoughts of the coming tomorrow made sleep slow in coming.

Thanksgiving day started out with a breakfast only equaled to the one at Christmas. Those that would be guests for the Thanksgiving dinner began to show up around 8:30 a.m. Weather permitting, the front yard became alive with all sorts of games and excitement.

The smell of hot coffee made its way out of the kitchen as the older folks sipped the hot liquid. The problems of the times were talked over and over. Stalks of ripe sugar cane stood in the chimney corner, and every now and then, the games in the yard were called to a halt to chew the delicious sugar cane. Popcorn balls and homemade candy, filled with chunks of walnut and pecans, could be had from a large bowl on the kitchen table.

If anyone here that day left our house hungry, it was their own fault. The potato pies and the many cakes would be sampled again, about the middle of the afternoon, along with another cup or two of hot coffee. Just before the guests made ready to leave, all expressed to my mother that this Thanksgiving meal was the best yet, and this, no one there doubted.

One final tune

As the crowd gathered in the front yard to leave, Grandpa brought out the bagpipes for one final tune, “Amazing Grace.” As the heart-stirring notes of this most beautiful hymn faded for the last time, a small boy wondered why everyone there seemed to have something in their eyes all at the same time.

When the handkerchiefs were finally put away, it was time for the goodbye hugs. Everyone hugged everyone else, and a day that would be cherished in memory for all times to come began drawing to a close.

A small country boy looked toward the setting sun with deep regret that the day was over. As the approaching darkness slowly crept across the front yard of this country home, he knew that it had been a most wonderful Thanksgiving, a Thanksgiving that would linger in memory forever and always in the mind of a country boy.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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