Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A THANKSGIVING MEMORY

By
Earl Hamner

In the beginning my hometown of Schuyler, Virginia, was a company town, the home of The Alberene Stone Corporation that quarried and milled soapstone. We lived in company built houses and bought our goods from the company store. Schuyler had been a prosperous little village but when the Great Depression came the mill closed. My father found work in Waynesboro and could only be home with his family on holidays and weekends.

I remember a Thanksgiving from those years. Mornings were strangely quiet because the whistle calling the workers to the mill was still in observance of the holiday. On this Thanksgiving morning the sound that woke us was that of my father, home for the holiday, building a fire in the wood-burning cook stove. He drenched the wood with kerosene and when he lit it with a match the flames mad a whooshing sound as they roared up the chimney.

Shortly, he called down the hall to my mother, “Sweetheart,” which was his name for her till his dying day. My mother answered, “I’m on my way,” and joined him in the kitchen. They spoke quietly to each other, sharing private moments. Soon the sound of coffee percolating and the aroma of sizzling bacon would drift up to our rooms.

We descended upon them, eight red headed brothers and sisters, crowding around the stove to warm up. Breakfast was served at a long wooden trestle table my father had built and while we ate he would admire his brood and call us his “thoroughbreds.”

Each of us was assigned chores. The girls helped our mother wash and dry the dishes, make the beds, washing and iron the clothes. The boys tended to outside chores. There was the cow to be milked. She was a brown and white Guernsey. My father had bought her from Miss Dolly Hall for forty dollars. Miss Dolly had named her Chance because she gave a “good chance” of butter. The chickens had been up before us and were waiting for the grain we tossed to them on the frosty ground. Feeding the pigs was a melancholy chore. They had intelligent eyes and looked up trustingly as we poured slops into their tough. I knew, and it pained me, but they were unaware that they did not have long to live.

Our Father had brought home the turkey the day before. He had shot it over on Wales Mountain and my mother was already preparing it for the oven when company began to arrive.

We were part of two great clans. My mother’s family, the Gianinnis, was of Italian descent and came from the town of Lucca in the Tuscany region. The earliest to arrive in our country was Antionio and his wife. Antonio had been brought over by Phillip Mazzi, a neighbor of Thomas Jefferson’s and eventually he became one of Jefferson’s gardeners. They were tall blond people for the most part, God fearing Baptist with strong family bonds.

In addition to my mother’s family, most of whom lived close by, my father’s people, aunts and uncles and cousins would arrive from Richmond and Petersburg. We were in awe of the city cousins. They used slang words that were new to us such as “guy” “jerk” or “kiddo” which made us feel na├»ve and countrified. We children would travel in packs, playing the old games of Hide and Go Seek, Olly, Olly Oxen Free, and in the nearby school yard we would shoot baskets or play baseball, or find a plowed field where we searched for arrowheads and fools gold.

In the house the conversation grew in pitch and volume as everybody talked at once. Hardly anybody heard what the other was saying but everybody knew what was going on. We are a family of storytellers. No event is without significance to us, and all that happens becomes a part of our history. We keep and share every detail. Our reunions become a verbal history of birth and death, of failures and accomplishments, of hardships and good times and just celebrating the joy of being together again. Being an aspiring writer I shamelessly kept notes!

At one point everybody piled into cars and went to the graveyard where we paid respects to our dead. The more recent graves bore markers with names and dates carved or engraved on them. In the older section we came to earlier graves marked simply by a single primitive stone with no lettering to tell the name of who rested beneath it.

On the way home one of the uncles made a detour down to Esmont to visit the Staples Sisters who made bootleg apple brandy. He brought a bottle back with him and it was surreptitiously passed from one of the uncles to the other. If she caught sight of it one of the wives would disapprove but her scolding did not last long for someone moved to the piano and soon all the grown ups had their arms around each other, swaying back and forth while singing “In the Garden” or “Down by The Old Mill Stream” or “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

In the late afternoon dinner was served. If my Grandmother Gianinni was there she would say a proper grace, but if she was not my father said, “Look out, Lord, we’re gonna eat!” A grace that Miss Ora looked upon with great disfavor. What a feast ensued! The turkey, golden brown, had a minimum of birdshot left in it! The applesauce was made from fruit we had gathered from an abandoned orchard down on Mt. Alto. The butter beans, the corn, and the peas came come from our summer garden and canned by my mother. The potatoes flavored with Chance’s rich butter were not mashed but creamed. Finally desserts. The sweet potato pie, still warm from the oven, was encased in a crust so crumbly and sweet that it alone could have been a dessert. And then came the pumpkin pie, steaming aromas of brown sugar and nutmeg, and all laced with generous portions of whipped cream. All of it was accompanied by milk for the children, coffee for the adults and if requested iced tea as sweet as sugar cane.

At sundown out-of-town guests drifted off to whatever relative had taken them in for the night. Others, sated with food and companionship, gathered around the radio for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving message. Sleepy, exhausted children were carted off to bed. It was a family custom that we would call goodnight to each other from room to room and finally, we would drift off to sleep secure in the knowledge that we were home, safe and loved.

They were challenging times, those Depression Years. They seem so distant now. We thought we were poor, but in them we were richer than we knew.

The house where we lived fell into disrepair for a while, but happily it was bought by someone I respect and admire and am most grateful to, a fellow Virginian, Pam Rutherford. She has restored the house from top to bottom. I was afraid that when I visited there after the restoration I might be disappointed but Pam has paid such incredible attention to detail that when I was there a couple of weeks ago I walked thought the door and I was home again.

In memory I go there each night. I stand beside the gate, look up to the house, and once again I hear the voices of my mother and father, my brothers and sisters as we call goodnight to each other before we sleep.

The end.

20 comments:

  1. Wonderful blog entry, Mr. Hamner! It reminds me why Thanksgiving Day is my favorite holiday.

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  2. EARL...you are still the greatest writer to grace the pages of paper. You use the perfect words to take your readers exactly where you want them to be, to see what you are seeing. You are brilliant. Yet you remain gracious and humble. You have all the great qualties every writer should possess! Happy Thanksgiving to you and Jane and Peaches! <3

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  3. Dear Brother Earl,

    It was such a joy to have you home, again. The hours flew by much too quickly, before we could all 'get our visit out', as we say. One of the amusing moments was when I volunteered to look out for Miss Audrey--not realizing that she was as quick and capricious as a squirrel. I was chasing around, until I lost sight of her, and gave up. She turned up with her daughter, I believe it was, and was as bright eyed as ever, with that "was I bad?" look of innocence.

    Thank you for letting us all go home with you in your musings of Thanksgiving. Come back and Ill help you ring the bell again, 'bringing in the sheaves.'

    Pastor Tom

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  4. Thank you, Mr. Hamner. I love it when you post a blog, because I know it will be wonderful to read and as usual, you have 'taken us back'. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving 2009 and that you will make new memories with your family and friends.

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  5. Thanks so much Mr. Earl. Of course emotion overtook me by the end of the story. Have we lost those times forever? I think not, as at every Thanksgiving, my family manages to recreate them. Happy Thanksgiving from West Tennessee.

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  6. Thank your for all that you do and have done. Your writing is always a treat..

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  7. I can't read anything of yours without becoming emotional....thank you for sharing your wonderful memories with us!

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  8. I, along with my family, are happy that you provide glimpses into your past, present and future for us all. We will look forward to your Christmas wish on this blog. You do have a Christmas wish don't you?

    Don and Cindy Boley, Scottdale, Pennsylvania

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  9. With each line you write,i become a part of your family,i see me with your sisters or listening to grandpa and gramma for much needed advice in the 50,s 60,s so on down the line ,like i did my parents,Gosh your mom was and remains my heroine.God Bless you for the gift god has bestowed on you...as you truly one of my most favorite creative writers...

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  10. Thank you again for lovingly sharing your family with us. It's always a wonderful treat.
    Blessings,
    Marcia

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  11. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Earl Hamner a few weeks ago at the Doubletree Hotel for the Waltons reunion. He has an captivating aura about him, and you can absorb all of his sentiment when you speak with him. I will never forget his demeanor, wisdom, and wit. An incredible man, with incredible stories. What an inspiration he is! It was an honor to meet him.

    Linda Roach

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  12. What a beautiful tribute to your family. Once again, you captivate our hearts as we follow you back in ages to the Thanksgiving table.

    I am thankful for the opportunity to meet you at the Hamner Theater a few weeks ago. It was an honor and a privilege. Thank you for your humble spirit and tender heart. You inspired me many years ago through The Walton's and you continue to inspire me, today.

    Blessings, prayers, and hugs,
    Andrea Bowling Perdue

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  13. Bless you for such a wounderful heart warming story.The omly sign of Thanksgiving at our house was watching the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.Kathy in Indiana

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  14. This is Tauna Faulkner again,as I sit here reading this one tears come to my mind as I remember my Mother and your memories of your youth seem like I am listening to my mother tell of hers. The games, the music and the radio. She always loved music and had a beautiful high Saprano voice. Those songs you wrote down were ones she loved too, and we loved them. In The Garden is one our fam. loved to sing. She taught us children to sing it when I was 5 for our gandfathers funeral, since 1965 that has always been one we would sing for family reunions and funerals, of course it was only fitting for us her children to sing it at hers. She played the same games and I even played some of those too. she talked of the taffy pulls and other candy they would make. In the evening they would sit outside on the front porch and sing songs, as a family then the neighbors would all come over and join in. my grandpa played the harmonica & juic eharp and had a greta tenor voice. My grandmother played the piano and organ & sang. My mother was #5 of 8 children. They all sang and performed in many talent programs. Their parents very strict & religious but loving. They lived in a little minning town in Arizona. Thanks again for your wonderful Thanksgiving memories. Our Grandma made great dressing and we all make it to this day. She was a wonderful cook just like my Mother. my Mom wrote beautiful Poems, never had them published but she still wrote into her 80's. Thanks again for your memories. A Greatful Fan. Tauna Faulkner
    taunamaree@yahoo.com

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  15. Simply Marvelous Earl ! ! ! :)

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  16. I'm going to add my voice to others who have told you much better than I can the deep effect that you have had on myself and so many people. We lost our farm, due to the purchase of a grocery store that my father used as collateral, the same year that The Waltons first aired. Until I read what you wrote about Doris, how she wanted to "go home", did I truly understand exactly how important that farm was to my childhood. Even through loss, I am truly grateful to have been able to say that I grew up there, to have been schooled in a two-room schoolhouse where every child had two parents who cared and the teacher would come to the house for supper. We also say goodnite to each other once we are all home. This Fall my twins will be away in college and I will miss that until they can visit. God bless you, Mr. Hamner, for sharing your life and all it's blessings. Betty

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  17. Simply said: Thank you Earl for your writings. It means more to me than you'll ever know! I never had a close family life so when I read your books it puts me right in the middle of a loving family. I thank you for that!!

    May God Blessings be with you,
    Terri

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  18. Dear Friends and Mr. Earl: I have been dedicated for a long time to trying to strive for an excellence in our standards of living. My appreciation is endless for the portrait you have painted of a better America and a better time. I realize from your portrait the times were not easier nor were human beings better..we just had better ideals implanted by folks like the Waltons to cope with the difficult people and times. My own parents reflected those ideals as I grew up in the 50s and 60s. Then of course, the 60s started to change everything and certainly not as we expected for the better. Yes, we long for those ideals and the Faith of our predecessors.
    My question : Can anyone telll me how close to real life were the stories, experiences and occurrences depicted in the televsion series especially with the Walton/Hamner family during WWII ? Thius was my favorite part of the series. I watched and imagine just how things could have been for my own parents.
    Thanks again for sharing your joyful memories and hopefully resetting American standards, reminding us of the better time and getting God back into our communal lives.

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  19. Dear Friends and Mr. Earl : Tonight I had the pleasure of watching the very first epsisode of The Waltons. I have never seen the earlier episodes before and did not have captioning in those earlier years to have really appreciated it. Tonight I was thrilled to see your first epsiode was the story of a deaf child. As a profoundly deaf person ( and very productive as an adult) it resonated strongly with me and made me realize how growing up deaf in the 50s and 60s was not so different as the 20s and 30s. Now, of course we have the technology to walk tall and make our imperfect voices heard. Thanks for the consideration in your story aired originally in the 70s when we had no voice. You gave us one.
    Now, some channels airing thiese episodes are not airing them captioned which is breaking our hearts once again. GMC refuses to air the already close captioned decoded captions and Inspiraton and Hallmark always do.
    Perhaps, you and your followers could send an email or make a call to request on our behalf to air these shows captioned. We missed the long awaited ,'A Marriage on Waltons Mountain' because GMC refused to show it captioned.
    Thanks for all of your cherished memories and please continue to create the brilliant material you magically weave for all of us .

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  20. i love watching the waltons it is such a great show yesterday spencers mountain was on and i told my son scott that it was the orginal waltons mountain show~ i also came from a big family i have 6 brothers and 4 sisters~~!! your work is just great !!! teri

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