The Planted Row: Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving

Stan Wise

by Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

The older I get, the more I succumb to the power of memory.

I am thankful for all the blessings in my life, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by memories of times that are past and will never come again. Like the memories I have of my (now deceased) grandfather laughing at a joke at the dinner table or my grandmother presiding over family gatherings before she needed a walker to get around — when she could still do all the things she enjoys doing.

I know my duty lies in the present, yet sometimes, the past calls with a clarity that can’t be ignored.

One of those times is Thanksgiving.

I can remember exactly what my grandmother’s turkey dressing and giblet gravy tasted like; though, I haven’t had either for many years. Truth be told, chances are good I will never taste them again.

But those memories of food are just the gateway to a host of other memories of a time when my aunts and uncles and cousins were young. A time when we all crowded into the close confines of my grandmother’s house and were forced to tell our best stories and make even the most taciturn of us laugh.

And there was plenty of laughter then. Many of the kids in the family were young, and their innocence brought out the best in all of us as they discovered they were part of a large family that loved them.

While my present life is wonderful, those happy memories of holidays past are hard to shake at this time of year.

I now live roughly 1,100 miles from my family farm, and that’s the closest I’ve lived since I left in 2003. Though I will travel home for Thanksgiving this year, most of those people I remember haven’t seen me or my family for two years.

The family has long since outgrown my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. They meet in a much larger building now, and none of the different cousins are forced to sit with those beyond their immediate family. Most of my aunts and uncles now have grandchildren of their own, and because I have lived away from the farm for so long, I barely know them.

This week, I lamented to my wife that our life away from the farm had kept me from sharing the last 3 years of my grandfather’s life and the last 14 years (and counting) of my grandmother’s life. My wife, who is from New York, said, “Only people in the South think that way. In my family, the kids move off and have lives of their own.”

I gently disagreed with my wife and told her it’s not just in the South that families stick together. It happens in all the rural parts of this country.

I think working the land keeps families close and connected. I think the combination of both shared labor and a shared connection with nature does something magical. It binds families together in an intimacy that many other people in more developed parts of our country don’t get to experience.

But you can lose it if you leave it for too long.

That’s why I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is as bright as my memories. I hope the elder members of your family are still young enough to laugh at your funny stories. I hope they are still presiding over meals and leading you all in song. I hope you are all cramped in a small space together, laughing, joking, and singing.

I hope you all still know each other well and greet each other with smiles and firm, sincere handshakes. I hope you all know, without saying, that you can still count on each other.

I hope you all have a rural, happy, close, and loud Thanksgiving.