By Ronnie Cameron
“When I’m an old woman, I shall wear purple, and a red hat that doesn’t suit me / And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves and satin sandals / And say we have no money for butter.” – Jenny Joseph
Thanksgiving 1978 – As per tradition, Clan Cameron and plus ones assembled at Grandmother Cameron’s white clapboard, two-story house on Gause Street, Hinesville, Ga., for our annual Thanksgiving feast and familial bickering.
At that point, Grandma was only 75 years old, practically in her prime, considering she would live a long, productive life until she ran out of gas just six months shy of her 93rd birthday.
Literally, for as long as I could remember, my immediate family had congregated at Grandma’s every Thanksgiving for a day of feasting and football on television. It was always an extra special treat if my cousins were able to attend from North Carolina and Illinois, but most of the time, strictly because of travel restraints, it was the Georgia branch of the Clan that sat around her table.
And what glorious treats she spread across that table: Turkey and dressing, giblet gravy, chicken and rice, buttermilk biscuits and fig preserves, rice, baked ham decorated with pineapple slices and whole cloves, butter beans, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, stewed corn, gigantic baked yams served cold, pickled peaches, pickled crabapples, collard greens, crowder peas, pound cake, coconut cake, banana pudding with baked meringue, sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. Not to mention, gallons of tea, and coffee for us weirdos. Yum, yum. That Thanksgiving menu was tradition, and I’ve obviously not forgotten it. All adults and children naturally had their favorites, and Grandma made sure everyone had their fill.
All those years of eating at Grandma’s, I only ever tasted a fraction of what she set on the table. Plate size and stomach capacity created built-in limitations.
Thanksgiving 1978 represented a milestone for me, and I cherish the memory. That year, almost like a debutant from glorious days of old, I presented the incomparable Susan Gunn, then my fiancé, to Thanksgiving at Grandma’s. My recollection is fuzzy, but I don’t think the two had met prior. I do, however, recall that Grandma took me aside and gave me her blessing, with words I’ll never forget:
“Ronnie, Susie is a darling. She’s little as a bird, but she has a good appetite.” From her mouth to God’s ear. To Grandma, a good appetite represented the politeness of kings.
Anyway, we went about our business at the dinner table, the clank of silverware on china plates, ice rattling away in tea glasses, delightful conversation, and cheerful laughter, such as I know repeated itself in millions of homes across the country on that day. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday since the pressure of gifts never entered the fray. It’s whole meaning was wrapped up in the simple virtues of good food, family, friends, and fellowship punctuated with thanks to our God.
Towards the end of the meal, someone noticed Grandma sitting there at the head of the table, her place of honor since Granddaddy died in 1974. She sat there, staring off with her unique pose of clenching her fist and holding the back of her thumb to her mouth as she thought about only God knows what. I had noticed her, but nothing registered with me. Too busy eating. But finally, someone at the table asked, “Grandma, is everything alright? You seemed to be lost in thought.”
If there were a Hall of Fame for things old folks say, I have no doubt the words that escaped her lips next would be enshrined up front in a place of prominence. We all heard it, and we all have never forgotten it. Priceless words of wisdom from a 75-year-old lady who witnessed WW1, lived through the depression, followed the heroics of George Patton in WW2, raised three children, and buried her husband.
“I’m just very thankful this Thanksgiving. I have a wonderful family,” she said, with all ears at the table clinging on every syllable. “No one is in jail, and no one is hard ugly.”
I thought Susan’s stewed corn would come out through her nose. She elbowed me in the side, and I quickly put my arm around her and stared into her eyes. She struggled to keep her composure. Bursting out in laughter at Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner table? Too soon, too soon.
Only later did my fiancé ask the million-dollar question, the answer to which I had no clue. “Hard ugly?!? Does that imply that some of us are soft ugly?”
Welcome, my dear, to Clan Cameron. I’m glad you stayed for the ride.