A Martin Family Thanksgiving

Ten years ago, Gail’s daughter Virginia wrote this memory of a long-ago Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving family photos

“Almost forty years ago. It’s hard to understand that so much time has passed. I look at the black and white photos. On the back of the photos, I’d written 1968 and the names of the people in the pictures. Of course, I knew their names without having to look on the back.

There’s Mom, looking so youthful. She would have been 44 then and years younger than I am now. She paused while removing the turkey and stuffing from the oven so I could snap this photo. She’s wearing the white sheath dress with the leaf pattern for the occasion.

Another shot shows Shannon, age 10, helping Dad fill the relish plate. There are olives, sweet gherkins, and cinnamon apple rings. Shannon looks so sweet in her jumper and a white blouse with a peter pan collar. Her black hair reflects the light and she’s wearing glasses. Her face is serious with the responsibility of helping with this holiday meal.

The round oak table is set with the white ironstone dishes. My grandparents gave that table to my father many years before. He ate at that table from childhood onward. Instead of a tablecloth, there are placemats. Beyond the big round table, a card table will accommodate the little ones. Even with the extra leaves in, the oak table couldn’t hold the expanding family.

The windows and curtains help me identify the house we lived in then. It was on North Emporia. The next summer we moved to State Street.

thanksgiving family photos

There’s a photo of me, looking much trimmer during those college years. All that walking across campus, I guess. In the photo, I’m setting out the desserts on the desk that was serving as a sideboard. I recognize Mom’s German chocolate cake. The four pies are probably rhubarb, pumpkin, cherry, and a pecan pie. Although the photo lacks color, my mind fills it in. I’m wearing olive green stretch pants, the kind with the stirrup, and an olive green paisley shirt. It looked good in the sixties.

There’s my older sister, Susan. She wears a navy maternity smock and there’s her son, Paul, just a toddler then. Peering into the shadowy background of the photo, I identify her husband, Ron. Only a few years after that, he died in a car accident. I wish I’d taken more photos.

Here he is again in the group photo of the family ready to sit down for the Thanksgiving feast. Larry and my sister, Cindy stand just beyond Ron. This was while they were dating and their marriage still a year away. Now their children are grown with families of their own. Next to them is Karen, who was still in high school. She’s wearing a polished cotton dress with wide cuffs that Mom made for her. Our brother, Owen, isn’t there. It’s the Vietnam War era and he’s away in the army.

The table is filled with serving bowls. I know their contents even though I can’t see the details in the photo. There is cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, deviled eggs, and stuffing. In later years, more favorites were added such as five-cup salad with the orange slices, whipped cream, bananas, maraschino cherries,and little marshmallows.

The next photo shows Mom and Dad as the meal finishes. The family always lingered around the table, telling stories and enjoying the company. Soon we put away the over-abundance of food for a few hours and cleared the table for card games. Nolo was a favorite and also Spoons. Later in the evening, the food reappeared for a buffet. Still sated from the earlier feast, everyone managed to nibble on their favorite dishes and squeeze in another piece of pie.

The final photo from that long ago day shows Mom and three of my sisters in the kitchen “washing up.” Actually, Mom was washing the dishes, Shannon drying them, Cindy putting them away. Karen brought the plates into the kitchen from the table.
I’m thankful that we had that time together and now I have the memories of those good times saved in these photos. Our lives have moved along. I live far away. We are older now. Marriages have come and gone. Health problems crop up. Shannon and Ron are gone.

Still, when that special Thursday in November comes around, I know my family will gather. They will eat turkey and sweet potatoes. They will share laughter and storytelling and card playing. The little ones help fill the relish plate. New toddlers sit at the children’s table. The women will clear the table and wash the dishes. There is still much to be thankful for.”

Comments from That Post on Our Echo:

What a great memory piece about a warm and loving family. I really enjoyed the way you used the photos as you told the story, and adding the part about what people were wearing was nice. Brought back memories of favorite outfits I had in the 60’s. Very nice writing. Nancy Kopp

Very nice! This piece has the feel of “remembering Manderley” from the novel Rebecca. (My memory tells me that Shannon’s jumper was red.) Karen Kolavalli

Hey, Virginia, your memories took me back as if it was yesterday. Almost like in the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he sang “Traditions.” The food is always great at Thanksgiving, but it truly is the getting together as a family and or with friends that make it so wonderful. After Larry and I married and moved out of state, coming home for Thanksgiving was always such a treat. Cynthia Jo Ross

I do have an earlier memory of a large family get together where we as little children set on a stairway with our plate on our knees. One child to a step all the way to the top. Cynthia Ross

I remember that one, too–I believe it was at Howard & Marge’s big house in Madison. Karen Kolavalli

Your story exudes a warm, familiar, family feeling. Yours was a family blessed. BJ Roan

Your story seems very similar to what I remember about the family gathering for Thanksgiving in 1988. I love the adds memories about the colors in the clothes and the description of the photos. K.D.

Oh Ginger, I read this through my tears. A wonderful, affectionate, joyous, nostalgic, heartbreaking memory of holiday dinners at my sister’s home, many of which are in my memories too. Carol J Garriott

Great memories from the black & white photos. Takes me back to last year when I posted my Thanksgiving memory “We Gave Thanks Prairie Style” where I added the pen & ink sketches that Shannon drew. Enjoyed your memories, Mom (Gail Lee Martin)

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