Thursday, December 1, 2011

COG 112 - An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving: 1960, Our First Thanksgiving At Hungry Hollow

I am thankful that I am again to be in the company of all of the "cool genealogy bloggers" with this Thanksgiving offering.   Thanks to the incomparable COG hostess, Jasia of Creative Gene.  Also thanks to the equally incomparable fM for her wonderful poster.

Although I have changed some of the names and combined a few incidents, the Thanksgiving described below represents my feelings and memories of that day, some 50 years ago.


A cool, crisp November day signal good omens for our first Thanksgiving on the ranch, even though there was a brisk wind a'brewing. The guest list was fairly large for the old house because there was no dining room , though a very large kitchen. By days end, it would seem much overfilled with people, food and emotions.

My sister and one of her college friends came out the night before to help prepare the bread dressing that our family had been making for the last 20 years – since the early 1940s. The recipe was handed down by Mrs. Latta, the grandmother on the Paisley ranch family, where we spent the summer that I was five. According Mrs. Latta, who reportedly was a wide as she was tall, the trick to a fluffy dressing is finely plucking the bread into to tiny bits. My sis quickly became the self appointed monitor of what “finely plucked” bread look like – often helped by a hot toddy.

This morning I added the seasoned butter to the wine, and stuffed the huge bird, laced up the cavities, drizzled the wine'n'butter mixture over turkey and placed the bird in the oven. A bowl of butter and wine mixture for basting simmered over the pilot light of the old gas stove --- an ever present reminder of the delicacies to come.

My husband Ric was outside with his chainsaw cutting plywood for two makeshift tables which would form a huge U-shaped table along with our scarred old kitchen table. Our young daughters, ages 5 and 6, gathered pine cones and branches as well as sage twigs for centerpieces. Thankfully, I had enough dishes for our family of 5 and our 14 guests due to months of collecting coupons. Now my high kitchen cupboards were filled with place settings for 12 of sea green dishes, edged in silver, which along with parts of two mismatched sets rounded out my holiday table setting.

Ric carted in the plywood sheets and saw horses about the same time that the girls came in with their greenery for the centerpieces. Once the tables were put together, on went the crisp clean sheets and the aromatic centerpieces. Loli and Sharnie had the set the tables well before the first of our guest drove up the lane and over the creek to our house. The first to arrive was my sister and her friend, followed by my mother, my aunt Gail (mother's younger sister), and my younger brothers who were barely in their teens. Coming across the creek, just behind them was Cecil, who worked shares on mother's lower lake grain land – and was becoming part of the family. My brothers hauled in big bowls of fruit salad and marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes, bags of store bought rolls and cans of cranberry sauce and jelly. My Aunt Gail brought several bottles of wine, and from the giggles, sampling had begun early. Cecil stepped out of his pickup, company dressed in new jeans, cowboy shirt, cleaned boots, and his ever present six pack of beer.

The party was in high gear, and it wasn't quite noon, and three hours before the bird would be ready to take out of the oven. Whoa! Mother was fussing around Cecil; Aunt Gail, also vying for his attention, was ever pressing him to the forefront. Cecil, fisted hands so tight that his knuckles were white, gazed intently at his boots. Then my brothers and daughters began whooping because our partners in the ranch, Matt and Sandy, were coming up the road towing their horse trailer. Stuffed in the front seat of their King cab pickup were Matt, Sandy, and their two children (a son just older than our daughters and a baby). In the back seat, bundled in layers of heavy coats and sweaters were Sandy's grandmother from Arizona and her two granddaughters, Bru and Barbie, daughters of Sandy's sister who was for some unspoken reason was not with them. Out of the side compartments of the horse trailer, Sandy unloaded pies, some green and oddly textured veggie dishes her grandmother made, and a couple of cases of soda pop. Matt unloaded the horses with a horseman's grace.

The kids gathered around Matt and chorused, “Are you going to let us do some roping today?”

“Sure, but we gotta get the horses squared away in the barn first, then we set up a roping steer.”

While the kids were helping Ric and Matt, Sandy's grandma doted over her newest grand baby and my five-month old baby McBuck, while the granddaughters Bru and Barbie ran outside like untethered colts. They were city girls and loose from street grids and they ran and ran. Then grandma would panic, leave the babies and run outside herself – yelling at the running girls who paid her no never mind. Sandy and I told her that there was several hundred acres that was in sight of the house so the girls would be fine. Grandma then alternated between cooing at the babies, then running outside to yell at the city-bred creatures turned wild.

Outside, Matt and Ric had secured a set of cow horns to a wooden approximation of a cow's head set on a post. Each kid had their own lariat and was practicing their roping technique. Lots of dropped loops amid much laughter from kids and Matt, who, although an amateur, was an accomplished rodeo roper and horse trainer.

Grandma was now tippling a glass of wine between cooing and yelling. As the wind picked up she seemed to tipple, yell and coo in tempo to the increasing velocity. Aunt Gail and mother too were tippling, with mother coquettish and Gail trying to get Cecil to go out and show the guys how to put the roping steer up. Cecil clasped his beer even tighter and gave the appearance that he wasn't in the same room --- certainly not in the same place as the two women.

Sandy and I brought out hor'dourves and elderberry wine coolers. Grandma switched to wine coolers, but it appeared to me she had a flask in her purse that found its way to wine cooler more than once. Cecil ambled out to his pickup for another case of beer.

Ric and Matt saddled up a couple of horses so they could ride the ridges and check on the horses that Matt had brought up for winter pasture. Meanwhile the kids decided that roping the wooden steer was too tame so it was time to ride the donkey in the corral. Donkey did not like being ridden and had dumped each kid numerous times --- but then that was the fun of it. My sis and her friend were on the corral fence laughing with the unceremonious dumping of each kid, then egging them to get back on Donkey's sharp-ridged back. Sore butts and dirt covered, the kids soon looked for a new outlet, which meant roping REAL cows in the holding corral. The three boys each roped a cow, but couldn't get the rope off of the cows, and were chased by angry cows with ropes swinging to and fro from their heads.

Our daughters ran to the house screaming, “Momma, the boys have done it again.”

Ric and Matt rode up and shook their heads with amusement tinged with disgust as they surveyed the now wind-spooked, pissed-off cows dragging ropes around the yard. “Can't leave your rope dangling on a cow like that --- not good for the rope and makes the cow mad,” drawled Matt.

“We tried to get the ropes off --- chased them all over but those old cows wouldn't stop,” exclaimed the breathless boys.

Two sets of ropes snaked out. Matt got his cow, and easily lifted the two ropes from the cow's head.
Ric had to take another try. “Course you're a rodeo roper,” groused Ric. Ric got his cow on the next throw and loosed the ropes as Matt roped the third cow and removed both ropes. As the guys rolled the lariats and put the horses in the stalls, Grandma had lost track of Bru and Barbie, what with her tippling and cooing. Now she was in full run mode and yelling at Bru and Barbie --- all three of them running loose like wild horses. Sandy chuckled. “ A good run before dinner will do the three of them good.

By this time my sister and her college friend came back in the house for wine coolers and snack. “Sue, this is just like stepping back in time. Feels like being in an old western movie,” giggled her friend, who had also been tippling a bit.

My sister nodded and laughed, “It's always like this when I come home from college. We play so hard that I have to go back and check into the infirmary for a day or so to rest up.”

A final check on the wine'n'butter soaked bird told me it was time. The golden brown bird came out of the oven at the same time that Ric, Matt and the kids came in to wash up for dinner. Soon to be followed by a windblown, blowsy grandmother with Bru and Barbie in hand. Aunt Gail and mother left Cecil in peace and quiet. Mother arranged the salads and sweet potatoes on the table. Aunt Gail got out the wine glasses and put out the wine in the tin buckets filled with ice. Sandy and I mashed potatoes and made gravy, while Ric and Matt carved the turkey.

We all laughed and jostled to get into place at the makeshift table, and then for a moment a quiet settled around us – not exactly a saying of grace because none of us were church going folk, – and some were even atheist and agnostic – but a recognition of friendship, family and laughter.

~ ~ ~

© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. What a rollicking Thanksgiving tale! Loved it!

  2. Dorene, Thanks for reading and commenting. That was indeed a rollicking and fun time, as well as day. I am fortunate to have lived in unusual times and settings.

  3. You have outdone yourself! AGAIN! Ah, to have your gift.

    You have the B*E*S*T stories!!

  4. Congratulations on your inclusion in the COG! Great story! What a house-full...or should I say field-full?!

  5. Oh what a great story! You had me hanging on every word. It is so nice to have had this peek at your Thanksgiving Day feast of yesteryear. What fun! Thank you for participating in the COG, Joan. It's always a pleasure to read your stories.

  6. Carol, Jacqi, and Jasia,
    Thanks you for reading and commenting. I am glad that you enjoyed this bit from my past. It was indeed a fun time. And I am thankful for you all, my gentle readers.

  7. How beautifully you've captured a wonderful day with people's personalities showing through. This was such a different type of story/experience. Fun indeed!

  8. Pauleen, I am glad you enjoyed reading about people I hold close to my heart and a time that tempered me.

  9. The wildest Thanksgivings I've read about so far!

  10. This was an absolute delight to read! For we suburban/urban folk it was a peek into another world. Thank you!

  11. I love this story. So very human. You did a good job painting the pictures. I could "see" the events.

  12. Kristin, Susan, and Frances, So glad you liked this story. I can close my eyes and smell the juniper, pines and sage; hear the cattle, and even the evening coyote; but most of all the voices and laughter of those days on the ranch. In my blood, I guess.