Thanksgiving is about what is in your heart.
I was noodling around on Google, having just made Google Chrome my browser of choice, and was taken aback, almost to tears, by putting the street I lived on in Brandon Mississippi in the mid sixties, into Google Maps Street View.
This is the house my step-grandparents and step uncle lived in, my step father was raised here. I love this old house, it holds so many good memories. I didn’t know for sure that it was now abandoned, when I saw the mail box lying on the ground, that’s when I knew. I had a little catch on my throat. Like when you hear some doddering old thespian has died. Scanning further, I noticed the trash heap beside it. Mom would have never stood for that. Not at all.
Mom and Pop and Freddie. My step-dad Hardy’s family. I loved them in a way that I could not love Hardy. Well, not Pop, he was a little creepy in an Uncle Festerish type of way, but he never paid much attention to me anyway, thank goodness.
Dot married Hardy in October 1965, three weeks before I turned 5. Dot always said a daddy was my 5th birthday present, but he terrified me. He was so big. The only grown up man I knew was a bent over Great Grandfather that I loved dearly. This man was tall and large, with a deep voice and a quick temper. He terrified me and I avoided him at all costs.
I remember the night I met Mom. It was cold and wet and we were wearing jackets. We came in from the wet night into a glowing living room. The glow came from the gas space heater, you don’t see those much anymore, but they were wonderful. It was so cozy, snuggled down in
the sheets, lying on your side so you could see the grates on the heater glow with the orangeyellowblue of the flames. Nothing bad could happen to you, bathed in that golden light.
It was late and we went straight to bed. We slept in the bedroom Hardy and Freddie shared. It had two double beds in it. I slept with Freddie, while Mama and Daddy (I called him that their entire marriage) slept in the other bed. Freddie was 12 years old, 12 years younger than Hardy.
The next morning we woke to the smell of bacon and biscuits cooking. I had been living with great grandparents for as long as I could remember, they were old when I came along. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast in those years, but it couldn’t have been that exciting, I can’t remember any breakfasts. I do remember the noon meals, though. This home cooked breakfast with all the trimmings, right down to sliced tomatoes blew my little mind.
Later, I was left alone with Mom while Dot and Hardy were off somewhere and Freddie was at school. Pop worked at the Vickers plant. She sat at the kitchen table peeling apples. She offered me a slice, but I wanted the whole apple, and I sassed her, something I’m sure Mimi and Granpa always put up with cos I was their precious angel, and they were both masters at sarcasm, so it was kinda inbred. Anyway, she literally turned me over her red checkered apron and swatted by behind. I was outraged, I had never been spanked, in memory, I was everyone’s darling.
After I sulked around for about an hour, she brought out some things she said I could play with. One was a big black purse covered in those colorful little half beads. This isn’t very politically
correct, sorry, but there was a little black ragdoll that looked like a “pick-i-ninnie”, but I loved it. I had lots of dolls back at Mimi and Granpa’s but I think some where packed into a box in the trunk if the car. The piece de la resistance, was a coon skin cap. I had to treat it like a Holy relic, or I couldn’t play with it. When I was bored with those, she gave me Piggly Wiggly bags and crayons and I colored in their logo pig. Later, I was allowed to rummage through her jewelry box and try on her jewelry. It was only costume jewelry and she only wore it to church, but to me, it was like a treasure chest.
Later that day we traveled southwestward to Lafayette Louisiana where we settled in the apartment on Surrey Street. We went back to Brandon for Christmas and I remember it well.
The first Thanksgiving I can remember was in that warm, cozy kitchen. Dot and I watched the parade across the street, in a house we rented when we came back from Louisiana for good (for good, the Dot and Hardy Years, cos I’d be back in 1974.) Dot made peanut butter and crackers with a large marshmallows on top. These were put into a low oven and browned, then served with hot chocolate. About noon time, we trekked down the hill, to Mom’s. Hardy was already there. He had been there all morning. He went there every morning. He was a Mama’s Boy.
Not surprisingly, Dot cared little for Mom. You can see in this 1968 Christmas dinner photo that Mom is mostly hidden by Uncle Fester, I mean Pop. That is an old family trait of cutting peeps you dislike out of cute pics, we are a strange bunch. Only an O’Brien would make everyone hold their pose while they positioned the most beloved person in the room out of the picture. Dot had to use an old timey brownie with those golf ball shaped flashbulbs, bulbs people, not even a flash cube!
Also, my mother wasn’t fond of Freddie, but I thought he was a total blast. He was only 7 years olderthan me; he was more like a goofy big brother uncle. I had UncaHoney, the stalwart of uncleness, but this uncle was goofy and funny and had a box full of comic books under his bed. He called me
“Puddin’ Head” I was once bitten by a neighborhood dog. Freddie lost his head and shot the dog. The little dog partially visible at the bottom of the photo, Nubbin was then whacked by the owners of the collie that bit me. It was like a horse head in your bed. If that ain’t love in Mississippi in 1970, I don’t know what is. Somebody call Jeff Foxworthy.
If she disliked Mom and Freddie, she downright hated Pop. Pop had been in WWII. He was active in the VFW. He drove a blue Dodge. He smoked roll your own Prince Albert cigarettes. He didn’t wear his teeth when he was at home. He drank Budweiser. He was a pretty good sport, I guess. He was funny.
I am very thankful I had them in my life. They came into my life when I was young. They were there Oct 65-Nov71.
I am also thankful that Dot, Chris, Mel and I made a pilgrimage back there in July of 2000. We drove up to the little yellow house. I got out of the car and carefully opened the old gate. I walked up the thin concrete walk that I still have scarred knees from falling there. Mom opened the kitchen/front door before I could open the screen door. “Can I help you?”
“Mom, it’s Vi”