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November reflections of family traditions

Ellen Campbell
Central City, Neb.

I used to consider November the dreariest month of the year (some people say February has that distinction) but I’ve lived through so many seasons by now that I can see the good in every month. This year we’ve had a particularly fine November. We know it will turn cold soon, but we enjoy whatever mild weather we get. With all the harvest dust in the air, we’ve had gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. And though the colors of nature are now mostly browns and golds, they contrast pleasantly with the blue skies. We still see a few accents of bright red in the roadside sumac and some of the tree-climbing vines (including even poison ivy.)

When I look back at November events through the years, of course it’s Thanksgiving that dominates. Earliest memories include the turkey silhouettes we made from construction paper in Friday art classes in our country school. These were pinned to the window curtains in place of the Halloween jack-o-lanterns, and would later be replaced with Christmas wreaths or holly sprigs, all cut from that construction paper that no teacher could do without.

We studied about the Pilgrims in November, and about the first Thanksgiving dinner they had with the Indians as guests. Our holiday dinners have become far different from the original one which probably included, fish, venison, squash and corn. Cranberries might have been on the table since that was the part of the country that produces the crimson berries that are now a hallmark of the holiday, but there was no green bean casserole topped with French-fried onions, or anything made with marshmallows.

In my family growing up, we had roast chicken for our dinner. At that time turkeys were very expensive to buy, as were other kinds of fowl, and we raised our own chickens. In my later years at home, the folks would buy a goose from someone who raised them. Finally, about the time I was through college, turkeys were being grown on a large scale and became about the cheapest meat you could buy.

Now, when I think of cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I can’t help remembering an anecdote Bonnie Carlson had published in the Reader’s Digest. She was at her sister Barb’s house while dinner preparations were in full swing. With Barb’s hands deep in the dressing mix and little kids running around in the kitchen Bonnie heard her mutter “Those damn Pilgrims.”

Thanksgiving Day was supposed to be a day of giving thanks to God for our many blessings during the year, and I never liked it when someone referred to the holiday as Turkey Day. Now it might almost be called Football Day.

I don’t remember observing Veterans Day in my childhood as we do now. We knew of the holiday, which was then called Armistice Day in honor of World War I coming to a close the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, but in our rural area there were no parades or fireworks or banquets to celebrate it. I do recall one particularly cold day in St. Paul, Neb., which could very well have been in November. We were honoring the return of a distinguished hometown boy, Colonel Irvine. They had a truck flatbed in the middle of the street with chairs for dignitaries, and there the famous man stood up and spoke to the crowd. It was all very patriotic, but my feet were freezing and I was glad when the speeches came to an end and everyone was invited to go through the serving line of the much-touted barbecue. We each got a paper plate with some baked beans, coleslaw and some of the barbecued beef in a bun. However, the meat was cooked rare, which was a mistake in that unsophisticated community. Almost everyone was complaining about the “raw” meat, and I noticed much of it was thrown away. Trained not to waste food, we all took our sandwiches home and Mom cooked it done for us to eat.

Election Day was the other November holiday, and my parents faithfully voted in every election, drumming it into us kids to always vote. It was a family priority which I carried on into my own family while raising our children. Our daughter Karen, now living in England, still votes in the U.S. elections.

November is the month of fall turning into winter, and I have memories of that from childhood too. I’ll never forget working outdoors in the cold, bringing in cobs for the kitchen and living room stoves, and advancing to other chores as we grew older.

This was the month we girls began dressing in our nightgowns for bed behind the stove, and getting cozy warm there before dashing into the chilly bedroom and diving between the flannel sheets under heavy wool quilts.

Still, November sometimes has some very warm days after a number of killing frosts and maybe even snowfall. I remember one Thanksgiving weekend after we were married that I planted daffodil bulbs I hadn’t gotten around to earlier. They all bloomed the next spring.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous saying is “This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” We might apply that to the month of November. It’s a good month if we make good choices of what to do with it.


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