For a college class project, my daughter requested a tradition our family embraced as I was growing up. I inquired of my father if he would write our traditional family Thanksgiving from his perspective. I did that to give my daughter a gift from my father, her grandfather; and to reminisce about the wonderful memories I have from my childhood. So the following is written by my father.
Traditional Helton Thanksgivings by Gary M. Walker
The first large get together for Thanksgivings that comes to mind was in 1948. The Big War was over and all my aunts and uncles were excited to get us all together again after the war had kept the family apart. We visited a lot in separate family circles, but the thought of everyone in one spot appealed to everyone. At the time we lived at a Boy Scout Camp called Camp Vandevanter in a part log and part stone home as the caretakers. It had one bedroom, a living room and a kitchen, but the camp had a huge dining room with a kitchen that could cook for a hundred people. It was built over a large cliff overlooking Fountain Creek near Waterloo, IL.
When everyone started arriving, we had to direct them to a parking lot near the swimming pool to keep from blocking the driveway. Others were assigned cabins on the camp grounds that had heating. If memory serves, all the Heltons made it from all over southern Illinois and Dad's brother Waldo and his family came in from Cahokia, IL. That meant we had over 60 relatives in and out. They each brought or made a dish for Thanksgiving, the most exotic of which was baked peacock and pheasant contributed by Uncle Marion and Aunt Livina.
It started snowing and didn't let up until Thanksgiving morning. It had to have been 6” or more, but as little kids, it seemed up to your neck. One sled entertained 30 of us until we were burned out and frozen stiff. It felt good to go to the dining room with the smells of Turkey and trimmings, we all ate our fill and there still had enough leftovers for two or three days.
The meal over, we cleaned up and sat down. Mom and her sisters, Mary and Martha used to sing on the radio and were known as the Helton Sisters in Baptist circles. They would start the singing with “The Old Rugged Cross” , then, one by one, all the good ol' songs got their turn. With scores of different voices chiming in it didn't matter if you couldn't carry a tune in a bushel basket, no one cared as long as you were participating and having a good time. Circles of men comparing war stories, women complaining about the men, and kids chasing each other around the dining hall, all lent to an atmosphere hovering between debate and circus. Our cares about the weather, the economy, politics, and religion turned either to understanding or “serious” disagreement. Cards came out and every game you could think of was on the tables. Cigarette smoke hovered head high and laughter rang throughout the room.
When dark set in the din didn't stop. The fire in the huge fireplace was filled with logs and the popping and crackling only added to the fun and the smell lingered on your clothes. We all vowed to make this an annual event and we took turns having it at different locations that could accommodate large numbers of relatives. I even hosted some of the events and remember with all my heart the times we all had together. I miss those times and especially Mom's macaroni and cheese casserole, her singing and her love. Gary M. Walker
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