I enjoyed getting back to my home town for Thanksgiving and seeing my relatives.
I haven't eaten Thanksgiving dinner with my family for several years and the gathering this year was larger than I remember it having ever been. As I gazed at this multitude of cheerful faces, I couldn't help asking myself, "Who are these people?"
A few of the faces I recognized. I'm pretty good at remembering the people who lived in the same house with me when I was growing up, but some of the relatives I had only seen a few times during similar mass gatherings.
Anyway, they were all family, however distant, related to me by blood or by marriage or, since many were from Missouri, by both. The food was all delicious, except for Aunt Beatrice's heart, lung and pineapple casserole which I could never stand.
However, I would never tell Aunt Beatrice that I didn't like her casserole. It is her primary reason for existence since Uncle Jebediah passed away. She has broadly hinted that she is the sole heir of the authentic heart, lung and pineapple casserole recipe used by the Pilgrims.
When I dine in Cherokee, conversation is limited to when I put down my newspaper and ask for a refill on my coffee, so I'm not accustomed to carrying on an animated conversation with several people simultaneously while eating.
The only lull in the din of conversation occurred when someone pointed out that I didn't have any heart, lung and pineapple casserole on my plate and I quietly responded that I would pass on the casserole.
I heard a collective gasp and then saw that everyone was staring at me in open-mouthed disbelief. The eyes from the children's table across the room were wide with amazement and something akin to terror. I quickly regained my senses and said, "Just kidding" as I glopped a generous portion of Aunt Beatrice's famed concoction on my plate.
Everyone had a good laugh at my hilarious joke and the non-stop conversation resumed.
Rosella, some kind of cousin seated to my right, tried to remedy my inexcusable lack of detailed knowledge of how everyone was related to each other. Her husband had also passed away. "Passed away" is a family euphemism for a husband disappearing with a sack of clothes and the coon hound and never being heard from again.
"My half-sister's granddaddy was your great-great uncle on your mother's father's mother's side," she informed me, "He died during the Spanish American War."
"I didn't know I had a great-great uncle serve in the Spanish American War," I responded.
"I didn't say he was in the Spanish American War. That's just when he died," she corrected.
Irvin, who I had been informed by Rosella was my second cousin twice removed, was talking on my left.
"You remember that cabin on Grand Creek the family all came down to back in '57?" he asked.
"No, I wouldn't have remembered that," I responded.
"Or was it '58? Now that I think about it, I believe it was the year Uncle Orville passed away, because cousin Egbert bought a new coon hound that year. Anyway, the cabin is about eleven and a quarter, maybe eleven and a third miles north of Gallaton, but then again I think they straightened out the road some so it probably isn't much more than an even eleven miles now…" Irvin was saying while to my right Rosella was saying, "And Thelma is actually only a blood relative to Ezekial on Thelma's mother's side. You know that she, Thelma's mother that is, drowned when that armory exploded back in '65."
"How could an explosion cause somebody to drown?" I asked.
"You're not paying attention. I didn't say the explosion caused anybody to drown, that's just the time when Thelma's mother drowned. She wasn't anywhere near the armory. She drowned in Grand Creek."
Irvin was saying, "Of course, you can avoid that steep grade if you keep going past the Crenshaw place about two and two-thirds miles and turn west at that rock outcrop that looks kind of like a cow, well it actually looks like a small moose without antlers, not really thin like a deer, but not as stout as a cow either, sort of in-between…"
As I headed back to Cherokee with a Tupperware container full of heart, lung and pineapple casserole, I was glad that I had spent Thanksgiving dinner with the relatives, but also glad that Thanksgiving only comes once every four or five years for me.