Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
My older and only brother was born on November 23, 1950 in Montgomery, Alabama. I could always tell when it was his birthday because of the overwhelming odor of turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry salad. Mama took no quarter and spared no mercy for an indifferent nostril or an unhungry stomach. You would eat and it would be fabulous.
Thanksgiving—in all its culinary splendor—takes on different memories for different folk. My fondest turkey day memories are from the time that I was a young adult. I suppose I could appreciate the rosemary and thyme more. Before I just thought it was a nursery rhyme—or a song from Simon and Garfunkel.
I'm sure Mama got it from her mama and so on and so on until the blessed Indians and Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. All I know is the whole house smelled like Heaven for a day and a half. Plus, there were those glorious leftovers that might last for several days or at least until they're gone. The Pilgrims and Indians, God bless 'em, had no clue just how good a turkey sandwich with mayonnaise was or we may have never had Custer's Last Stand.
Syveta Mae Carter Griffin could cook. A sho'nuff country girl, she was raised on a farm in western Brantley County, just outside of Hoboken, Georgia, the second child of Everett Cecil Carter and Leila Virginia Strickland Carter.
The old farmhouse sat in the middle of a dirt yard that Grandma would sweep daily. See, back in the day, it was more work to have a nice grass lawn—you'd have to keep it mowed; besides, you wouldn't be able to see them chicken egg-eatin' snakes in hiding.
There was a cool, shaded front porch spanning the width of the house, with a three-person swing on the left and rocking chairs scattered about. The front door led straight down the main hall—living room to the immediate right and a bedroom to the left—that bed ever and always adorned with a floral, chenille bedspread and a Teddy bear won from the agricultural fair by Uncle Vance or Uncle Bud (Royce). Two more bedrooms down the hall to the left and right before entering the kitchen, which sprawled across the rear of the house.
I remember Grandma Carter's kitchen from a very early age. It smelled of flour and wood smoke; and, the food that came from it was better than any Hardee's biscuit I've ever eaten. Oddly enough, when I stroll into the Flash Foods on Plant Avenue in Waycross—the one with the Krystal right inside—I smell my Grandma's kitchen; so, I stroll there often.
Her table was long and welcoming. At Sunday dinners—which we went to each and every Sunday we weren't in Tripoli, Albany, or Tampa—the plates would be turned upside down before we ate. A little odd, I thought, till I realized that houseflies like to eat too. When the meal subsided and the men stepped outside to smoke their Prince Albert tobacco cigarettes, Grandma would just throw a big tablecloth over the food; and, it stayed right there until supper.
By the mid-Sixties, my grandparents owned a refrigerator with a freezer up top; and, in that freezer was the best strawberry ice cream, popped out of an ice tray in sumptuous pink cubes, that flaked off on my tongue. It came inside a box that I'm sure she bought from Setzer's or Colonial grocery store in Waycross—a little 3.5-ounce box with the name Junket across the front.
They also modernized to an indoor toilet when Granddaddy built a septic tank in the back yard—just several feet from where the outhouse ceremoniously stood. Oh, the horrors that outhouse caused me as a youngster.
It wasn't so much the corncobs or the Sears catalogs as much as it was the chickens that roamed around underneath my young, lily-white behind. If that ain't a Stephen King movie waitin' to happen—well, I don't know.
As many family traditions go, Thanksgiving brings us all together—and in these days, that seems to be harder and harder to do. I have fond memories of my aunts, uncles, and cousins gathering around the table amidst laughter, stale cigarette smoke, King Size Coca-Colas, and cotton aprons full of love and gravy.
It makes my heart smile; and, I recall dearly the song that we sang:
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Gary
Happy Birthday to you
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin