Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Big Southern Thanksgiving

Phew! Lots to catch up on. This will be my first holiday season that I have to work around a real work schedule and it's already affecting my blog posts. So as we come upon St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th, a German holiday we celebrate because my mom spent some of her childhood in Germany on an air force base. We aren't German) let me recap my Big Southern Thanksgiving.

Some background - my dad was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee and almost all of his family still lives there. His sister Doris, brother-in-law Ival, his daughter Kate, her family, my brother's family, and on it goes. This was the first time we had been back in about five or six years.

His connection to Barbourville, Kentucky comes from an aunt and uncle of his who had a good piece of land in the mountains there and left it to Dad when she died. We hadn't been to cabin since Thanksgiving 2000.

Wednesday, Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Eve: I worked a normal day at Discovery and headed for home around 3pm. I was taking shortcuts through neighborhoods and it still took me almost an hour to weave home. I cleaned the house and did laundry to prepare for my parents and sister Leslie to stay the night. We had an early flight out the next morning and so it was easier for them to stay at my place than get a hotel room or drive up from the Shore.

Side note - I realized I have enough bath towels to run an inn.

Thursday, Nov. 27th, Thanksgiving Day: I was really irresponsible. I gave my parents my bed to sleep in, Tad was at home on the Shore for the holiday so my sister took his bed, and I got the futon in the living room. Before falling asleep, I watched some TV until about midnight - Ghost Hunters, and they were in some really creepy sacrificial temple in England hearing and seeing all sorts of weird stuff.

Next to the futon is an enormous radiator that bangs when the heat comes on because our rental house is very old, so you can just imagine why I spent most of the night jolting awake and saying to myself over and over, "it's just the heat coming on." I know, I'm a huge wuss and needless to say, when Dad woke us all up at 4 a.m. I was ready to get up.

We were on the road to Reagan National by 5:30 to catch a flight at 8:40. My dad does this. He gets anxious when we have a place to be and getting there sooner rather than later makes him feel better about traveling. If we complain, his response is, "well, you haven't missed a flight yet, have you?" He has a point there.

We flew into Charlotte, North Carolina to switch planes to go to Chattanooga, Tennessee where my aunt was serving Thanksgiving at 2pm sharp. I'm pretty certain the plane that got us to Chattanooga was a retired crop duster. As I watched them start the propellers, I was just waiting for all the bolts to start falling into my lap.

We roll into Chattanooga, grab the rental car - which had New York tags on it, weird - dropped our stuff off at the hotel and headed over to Aunt Doris'. We knew we were in the right area when we passed the "Steak 'n' Shake" Restaurant. To this day, I have no idea what "Steak 'n' Shake" means... but I'll leave that one a mystery.

What a feast! Turkey, ham, brisket - and that's just the meat!

(My brother Zach, carving the turkey while Ival analyzes how to steal some)


Butter, grease and lard were also served ;) We had to take a long walk afterwards and still, it was all I could do to not fall asleep in my dessert. We left around 9 p.m. for the hotel and by 9:30 p.m. I was out cold.

Friday, Nov. 28: Dad was kind enough to let us sleep in until 7:15 am, but then we were up, out the door and back to Doris'. Breakfast was leftovers and a casserole filled with bacon, eggs, cheese and grits - sounds gross but let me tell you, it was better than any gourmet omelette Chef Francois could make.

After a last call for coffee, my parents, Lez, cousin Mark (Doris' son) and his daughter Sydney all loaded up and headed over to the prep school where every male in my family since my ancestors got off the boat attended 7th-12th grade - Baylor School. It's a gorgeous, enormous facility that sits on the Tennessee River.

The place reminded me so much of Maryland's campus that I had to keep reminding myself it was a grade school and not a college. Stables, tennis courts, enormous gym, wrestling facilities, state-of-the-art entertainment room, old brick architecture... it goes on.

After my father graduated, they changed it from an all boys military school to just an all boys prep school, and while Mark was there, it went co-ed. This is the bit of my family's legacy that's honored at the school today. It was the saber my grandfather wore as part of his uniform when he was at Baylor.


I kept an eye on my dad's face the whole time and it was wild to watch him remember and recall getting kicked out of study hall or told off for smoking cigarettes. Suddenly, he was 15 and smirking out of the corner of his mouth and I began to regret backing out of going to sleep-away summer camp there.

After dropping Mark and Sydney off back at Doris', we headed over to my older sister Kate's house to see her, her new husband Brian and my niece Sara Jane. It was the first time we had been to their new house and it was very close to the neighborhood my dad grew up in, which was really neat to hear him point out, "this is where I had cub scout meetings," and "this is the tree I stole Christmas lights from." After wolfing down Tennessee BBQ, sweet tea and pumpkin pie, I once again fought to stay awake as my niece continued to say, "Please!!! Let's go play more!!! Please!!! Just one more book!!!"

Later on, we headed back to Doris' for Shabbat dinner (Dad's side is Jewish, I'm not)and along with a bunch of my aunt's friends, we unsuccessfully tried to teach three year-old Sydney the evening song. Given that the house was full of elderly Jews, naturally, the evening proceeded with multiple attempts to try to find Lez and I suitable husbands - "Oh! I have a grandson in dental school who's about your age, Lauren. Why don't you send me your photo so I can pass it along to my Austin!"

Saturday, Nov. 29: Still unmarried - thank goodness - I climbed into the rental car with the fam, New York tags and all (Ival joked it was a miracle no one had slashed our tires yet), we headed North to our Kentucky cabin in the small old mining town of Barbourville.

After a four hour car ride, we got the house set up, fire going, bedding washed and then... sat. It felt so amazing to just watch the fire for a couple of hours. No moving, no tv, nothing.

It was sort of creepy being there though because most of the stuff in the cabin are things we brought from home over the years that we weren't using anymore. To see our old curtains, lamps, chairs, dishes and sippy cups from three redecorations ago was like a time warp back to my elementary school days.

The lake that you used to be able to look out on was a mess because they're putting in a dam so our beautiful view was punctured by bulldozers. Mom and I still ventured out into the mud to look for arrow heads around the property. She has found a bunch before, but no such luck this time, and yes she is wearing black leather boots. She's such a rock, my mother.

Later that evening, we caught up with our old Kentucky friends - people who live on and near the property - over coffee and Ms. Belva's orange juice cake. It was so funny to see how none of them had changed a bit in eight years, but Ms. Belva kept saying, "Oh Morris, just look at your girls, I can't get over your girls!"

Sunday, Nov. 30: Packing the cabin back up, saying more goodbyes and making promises of having Thanksgiving at the cabin next year, Mom, Dad, Lez and I got back in the car and drove through torrential rain to Knoxville, Ky to the Broyles house.

David Broyle is my dad's dearest and oldest friend - going all the way back to their Baylor days - and so we sat down with him, his wife, their children, their in-laws, and Grandma and Pop-Pop to Kentucky BBQ, Kentucky slaw, Kentucky ├ęclair cake pudding (yes that's all one dish) and loads more. More story sharing and recipe swapping made the few hours we spent at their house fly. We loaded back into the car and headed to the Knoxville airport - on time for our flight of course.

After the most turbulent plane ride ever - Lez was trying not to cry it was so bad - and another long car ride back to my house, I was back where I started: doing laundry and preparing for the next day. Doing two states and three cities in four days exhausted me and I'm still feeling the effects. Besides the 3,000 lbs I gained, I'm still playing catch-up on sleep - but what a vacation! We pretty much hugged every person in my Dad's history and retraced all his childhood steps. It was fascinating to experience his transformation with him and I wonder what my children will think when I take them back through my footprints. I know one thing, the BBQ won't be nearly as good.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Oh myyy...all that food sounds amazing!! What a fun trip.

Side note: Steak and Shake must be a southern/midwest thing. They have them in Indiana too and my grandmother always makes me go -- yum milkshakes though. :)