The lady gave us the senior discount with a simple nod and a wave. She was too busy for idle chit-chat, the line was building up behind us. It was my first trip to an “all you could eat” buffet in years. I was hungry enough, not starving mind you, but as she counted out my change I whispered to Cathy, “Eat as much as you can, we’ve got to get our money’s worth.”
I was weaving my way in and out of the traffic down past the shaved turkey, between the pinto beans and the rice when I saw the stewed tomatoes and okra. I froze in my tracks. I didn’t know you could still get that combination. Son of a gun! Hungry folks, their plates piled high with mashed potatoes, green beans, shrimp, salad, roast beef, pizza and carrot cake politely elbowed passed me on both sides unaware that I was no longer with them.
My Aunt Beatrice used to make that stuff at every family get together. I wouldn’t eat it. She also baked a ham and cooked a turkey and broke out those unbelievable pickled peaches. Her lima beans would melt in your mouth. And rutabaggers and blackberry cobbler was her specialty. The way I saw it as a child, only a complete idiot would waste time and stomach room eating stewed tomatoes and okra considering all the other choices.
Aunt Beatrice was the star of our Thanksgiving dinners. Now, Mom would maybe make a chess pie or a potato casserole. Granny would be crowded in the kitchen with all her daughters, giving a few directions but mostly telling some story about Aunt May White. Aunts Adell and Ruby Nell were obediently listening…..but make no mistake about it, Aunt Bea was doing the cooking!
She was raised “way back up” in the country. She married Uncle Womack when she was still a teenager. Even in the middle of the vegetable section at the Golden Corral I could see her as plain as day. She had that dark hair and high cheek bones. You could really see our Cherokee heritage in her. She worked hard every day of her life. She farmed like a man if the situation called for it. She picked cotton and peaches, apples and scuppernongs with equal aplomb. She set a record for canning jams, preserves and such that will never be broken. She never asked for a thing. She never complained. She laughed an uncommonly amount. And she lived a simple life of love, dignity and honor.
A lady with a plate of meatloaf and spaghetti ran me over. “I’m sorry sir. Do you mind if I get some of those pintos?”
Aunt Bea and Uncle Womack raised Charles, Barbara and Teresa in the big house up on the hill. What a grand place to play. They had big bedrooms and “hiding” closets and secret nooks on every floor! Aunt Beatrice allowed her favorite ten year old nephew to do anything his heart desired at her house. She would tussle my hair or give me a quick hug and then let me explore on my own. How fortunate I was but sadly, way too young to appreciate it!
Cathy came and got me, “Kes, are you alright? You don’t have anything on your plate.”
I loaded up on stewed tomatoes and okra and followed Cathy to our seats. The tears came out of nowhere. And I wasn’t sad or unhappy or having a senior moment. I was remembering a grand lady who meant more to me than I ever realized……or could possibly convey to you. I wanted to be ten again so I could tell her how special she was! I wanted to sit on the porch and watch the sun go down with her. As an adult I wished I’d told her what a shining example she’d set before us. She might not have realized it, but Thanksgiving WAS Thanksgiving because of her!
The big house burned down my senior year in college. It was summer before I got home and my heart was broken for their loss. Aunt Bea hugged me and said, “We can’t replace the pictures.” I have remembered that for fifty years. It wasn’t about wood and mortar for her. It was family, love and memories.
Boy howdy, how much we take for granted. Uncle F. D. said it a million times, “You can’t beat family.” It just never dawned on me growing up that there would come a time when Aunt Beatrice wasn’t there. We figured Granny would outlive us all. Uncle Clifford was as steady as a rock. Mom would heat those drops up before administering to an earache……that somehow goes beyond caring. Uncle Womack never said so but somehow I know in my heart he thought I turned out alright. Aunt Bea several times offered to give me seventeen acres across the street from the original house. She obviously understood my love for her home before I did!
They are all gone now. But how richer we are for their journey!
People are all the time telling me how much is wrong with this country. What is not working and who is not doing right. I’m tired of hearing it! This Thanksgiving let’s remember the Aunt Beatrices in our lives. Let’s celebrate how we got to be who we are. Let’s truly be thankful!
I finished up the stewed tomatoes and okra. They were ok…..but I would have still preferred the pickled peaches.
Aunt Bea and Kes