My mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with a main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.
The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later.
After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.
One eve of Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen in place of baking turkey. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, no! It can’t be true!
The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and fried pies in a sturdy cardboard box and covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.
I jumped down from the old Model A Ford, pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm. I shook eight feet of canvas down to the dirt between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the morning sun.
Five minutes before noon, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his watch. He nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.
“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishments of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”
Bless the farmer? We should be at home heaping our plates with warm turkey and dressing and tantalizing desserts instead of eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.
“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”
The next year when we gathered at home for our traditional Thanksgiving meal, one of my brothers mentioned Frank’s powerful prayer from the previous year.
“That farmer did so well that he bought a cotton-picking machine and put us all out of work.”