Bob Mitchell: Thanksgiving at the Ray House

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Two decades short of a century, or about 80 years ago, Thanksgiving at the Ray House at Ninth and Townsend right close to downtown Cassville, was a big deal for young and old alike.

That was the home of my grandmother, Jennie Ray, where numbers of families assembled to observe the holiday and to feast on the results of some of the most fantastic cooks of that era.

It was always a challenge for the youngsters to try and guess what each branch of the family would bring to the table as their contribution to the gathering.

There were years when they would come from far and near to take their seat either around the large circular table in the spacious dining room or be among the youngsters that would be seated either at the work table in the kitchen after it had been cleared of preparation procedures, or at card tables either in the dining room or in grandmother’s downstairs bedroom, which was adjacent to the big table’s location.

Youngsters in the family always conversed concerning the future and when they would be elevated to the big table.

Feeding the masses

Talk about feeding the masses, this was one holiday when that was true at the Ray House. There was one holiday, about 80 years ago, when we were dispatched across the street to borrow a card table from Ray and Lona Dingler, who had accepted an invitation to join the family for the event. There was never a shortage of food, neither was a variety absent for the day.

Aunt Missie Pearl was the “chef in charge” for this group and she always produced the basic meal, using a wood-burning cookstove located in the middle of the kitchen, although she had available an electric unit, up against the wall. Aunt Bland Hawk (her name at the time) was probably the first assistant to the chef, my mother, Kathryn Mitchell, the baby of the original Ray family, was relegated to assistant duties in the early days.

On this wood-burning unit she would produce a couple of turkeys and her famous “Sunday biscuits,” a favorite of everyone present. It was up to some of the older kids to keep the stove stoked with “shekan” wood out of the woodhouse in the backyard, often splitting some of the larger pieces to fit in the stove’s firebox.

There were several generations of families present for most of those years, generally utilizing all the five bedrooms in the house and spilling over onto a number of divans in other rooms.

Some of the smaller children would find pallets on the floor anywhere they could find a spot. It was a real togetherness holiday for the Ray family.

In today’s time, the event has dwindled and family scattered leaving only a very few still in this area.

Got to drive the Buick

Most senior of the family, aunt Bess Robinson, who resided in Neosho, was most usually on hand for the event. Her husband, Clarence, would come if his lumberyard duties weren’t keeping him at home. He seldom drove that distance, so someone would be assigned the duty of riding the Ozark Trailways bus to their home in Neosho and drive them to Cassville.

This wasn’t considered anything less than a pleasant experience, since the Robinson’s always drove a new Buick automobile, which was a real treat for those holding a driver’s license in those days.

It always impressed the younger folks when uncle Means Ray, at that time mayor of Jefferson City, would arrive in his chauffeur-driven Packard. The driver, a black man named Bill, enjoyed our Thanksgiving fare as much as anyone.

Thanksgiving statistics

One of the easiest traps we can fall into these days for folks residing in the Ozarks is taking the blessings we enjoy for granted. Sometimes we take for granted our comfortable homes, safe schools and assuming our good health, security, safety, freedoms and all those things that come with living in southwest Missouri.

Putting this in perspective, if you have food in the refrigerator, if you have clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of all the people in the world. You are in the top 25 percent!

If you have money in the bank, and you have some money in your wallet, you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy. You are richer than 92 percent of the people in the world!

So, with these few facts in mind, approach Thanksgiving Day recognizing that for three billion people on the earth, it’s illegal to attend a church service!

Again from the Mitchells

This is our Thanksgiving blessing from all our families, in Colorado, California, Kansas, Florida, North Carolina and naturally Barry County.

We hope your day and your family have the best of all that is available.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.