My fondest memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family always include turkey legs. I often flash back to my adolescent pre-meal dreams when Mom would leave the meat on the bone and …
My fondest memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family always include turkey legs. I often flash back to my adolescent pre-meal dreams when Mom would leave the meat on the bone and plop an entire turkey leg on my plate.
It was a selfish wish. I had four siblings and there were only ever two legs to go around. I, unfortunately, was the weakest of the five children should a fight for the honor break out. Luckily my four sisters were more fond of white meat.
My father and I would get the legs on most special occasions. Pops always knew how excited I was to taste the holiday bird, but nobody was allowed a nibble until prayers were wrapped up.
As a child I always assumed we held hands during the prayer in an exercise of family communion. At least that’s what I was told every time I protested that to do so would surely result in an incurable case of cooties. The older and somewhat wiser me now realizes it was probably initiated as a family tradition to discourage sneaky pre-prayer bites.
There were three special prayer dates in the Davis house: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My father would sit at the head of the giant table surrounded by the seven of us and an occasional guest — all previously supervised at the bathroom sink to ensure clean hands. Numerous dogs and cats would circle the room, hoping for spillage.
Holiday craft projects made at school were displayed haphazardly using large strips of Scotch tape above mom’s scratched and scarred piano.
Dad would lay into a special prayer like a preacher unhappy with the previous week’s offering. He’d give thanks for the food “on the table before us.” Then, while I tried to not drool on myself while being overcome with the smell of the feast rising in the steam of hot, homemade food, he’d offer prayers for numerous family members unable to be at the table, friends in need, folks in the church who might be under the weather, service members not able to be home for the holidays and guests at the table.
He should have first prayed for collective patience.
At the end of Dad’s spirit-filled monologue, Mom would give my little paw a gentle squeeze before opening her eyes and releasing me from prayer prison.
Serving spoons immediately began clanking on the odd collection of Corningware as a vast rotation of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, veggie trays with olives and cream cheese-stuffed celery, fruit salad and dinner rolls circled the table to a chorus of requests to pass the gravy, butter and salt and pepper.
Mom would look lovingly at my father after those special prayers, usually smiling, but occasionally wiping away a tear from her rosy cheeks. I learned to love sitting next to her, but I assume the seating assignments were designed to keep me in check. I was the feral child and she had more patience than my father.
I’d keep my eyes on Mom, like a puppy hearing the can-opener, while she decided the fate of the legs. Sometimes there would be a conversation as she checked around the table to see if anyone else wanted a turn receiving the plump cherished appendage wrapped in crispy, buttery and salty skin.
I didn’t always get my way, but when I did I would instantly feel like a knight preparing for the jousting finals — the eventual lance being a skillfully stripped leg bone. There were no crowns, but being awarded the leg made me feel like I was receiving an award.
Even now, as a plump sexagenarian, getting a leg still makes my holiday meals special.
Yet, I remember some clues to how my parents pulled it all together; feeding us homemade meals each and every day while keeping the aging, rusty cars on the road and a sometimes leaky roof over our heads. There were quiet arguments about finances and secret talks about possible food sources.
I remember times when we applied for reduced-price lunches at school, which at times were used against us by cruel school children who had never seen their families struggle and somehow found joy in the fact that we were poor.
I also remember my mother being forced to go back to work in the mid-70s as inflation shrunk the modest amount my father made at the local television station. After that, eating in front of the television often replaced the nightly family meals. Meals from a box like Hamburger Helper, or from a can, like SpaghettiOs, often replaced baked goods and roasted beasts.
I wish I was smart enough in the 60s and 70s to be grateful for my parents’ resolve. They often wore tattered clothes and shoes rather than deny their children musical instruments or sports equipment. Mom would secretly stand in line for commodities and constantly pull weeds in the family garden, hoping to supplement grocery runs.
Most Sunday afternoons she sat on the plaid divan with the weekly papers and clipped coupons. From that point on, our meals were almost always dictated by coupons and sale prices.
They had both gone to college; Mom was the first in her family to do so. They worked hard, always paid their tithes — even in the worst of times — and didn’t take receiving charity lightly. Even after losing the family home in the 80s, they tried their hardest to lift their chins and move forward while, at the same time, continuing to volunteer their time at church and for various organizations. And their children never went hungry.
I’m an old man now, but I will never forget how hard they fought to keep their children from feeling poor. Their prayers were selfless and their struggles were done so in silence.
So I will continue writing stories championing wonderful programs like the Community Thanksgiving dinner, Powell Valley Loaves and Fishes, Backpack Blessings, the Christmas Basket program, Toys for Tots, commodity distributions (to name a few) and those who selflessly volunteer for the plethora of service organizations in the Basin. Not because my bosses have asked me to, but because I am inspired by those willing to give generously of their time and resources.
Of all the stories I remember from Sunday School and the subject matter of my parents’ dinner table prayers, coming to the aid of those in need are the most poignant.