Memories of Thanksgiving on the farm

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By Dave Bell

One of my favorite childhood memories is of our family gatherings at my grandparents' farm to celebrate Thanksgiving.

It was the one holiday when our entire family (on my mother's side, anyway) would get together. There must've been more than 50 of us on most Thanksgivings.

In addition to mountains of great food, we had all kinds of other attractions on my grandparents' farm.

One of my favorites was playing in what I always considered one of the great barns in the Midwest. We made forts in the haymow, tested our courage on the ropes and ladders that went up to a small platform near the peak of the five-story structure and we relished in harassing the pigeons that cooed in the upper cupola.

My grandfather raised cattle and sheep on the ground floor, giving the barn a wonderful mix of scents and sounds. To a farm boy, there's nothing that compares to a barn. It was the hub of all the activities on the farm, and it was where I learned about farming as I shadowed my grandfather on his daily chores. I even learned to milk a cow by hand a routine my grandfather maintained into his 70s.

I also remember our annual all-comers game of basketball at Thanksgiving. The facilities weren't fancy just a plain hoop nailed to the side of the garage but we had a blast. It was a rite of passage for the youngsters to get to play with the big guys. Inevitably, my older cousin's husband, who liked to play with us younger kids, would get his glasses broken sometime during the game. He'd patch the frames with black electrician's tape and wear them proudly the rest of the day.

And then came the meal. My grandparents had a huge oak table that seated many of the adults, and the rest of us were spread out throughout the house at card tables. It was a feast of monumental proportions and much of the food came from my grandparents' substantial garden. With all of us gathered around, it must have looked like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

And it was truly a time to be thankful.

I'm sure that every family has its own Thanksgiving tales to tell. And I'm sure that many of the same themes will emerge family, food, faith and gratitude.

But as we prepare for this Thanksgiving, it seems that those of us who live in Vandalia have an awfully lot for which we should be thankful.

Now, more than any time in the past several years, growth is evident in our community. The western I-70 interchange area is booming, new businesses are springing up throughout town, the farmers had a good harvest and despite the challenges that remain there is a sense of optimism here. We have known Thanksgivings when that optimism was missing, and it's nice to be able to look ahead with hope once again.

We know, too, that there are many among us who have not tasted the fruits of the economic upturn. We would do well to remember them on Thursday. Is there an extra chair (or two) around your table? Is there an opportunity to take a meal to a shut-in?

Have a wonderful holiday! And pass it on.