Bob Mitchell: First Thanksgiving compared to today’s

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Preparing the Thanksgiving Dinner today is a far cry from the first one exactly 400 years ago.

Preparation for what eventually amounted to 133 heavy eaters in the cold of winter was all over an open flame. There were no double ovens, microwaves or air fryers or the other modern conveniences that are found in kitchens of today.

Back in 1621, the Pilgrims, 53 of them, had barely made it through the harsh winter in the New World. With their scant foodstuffs, consisting of what they could kill or grow, they decided to do something to give thanks for making it through sickness and the hard winter.

History tells us they could have been a little loud with their celebration and perhaps were firing their weapons to emphasize their happiness, which upset the nearby Native Americans that in their minds thought there might be an attack coming from the Virginia settlement.

So, the Indians, who really were not invited to the celebration, were only on the site to see what was happening. Since they were at the site, they more than likely saw the meager amount of food that was available and somehow communicated with the new folks that they had much more available and would be happy to share.

Thus there became some 90 more mouths to feed, which seemed to be nothing to supply by the well industrious Native Americans who had been so willing to help the first to settle in their new home. That sounds a little dramatic at this point, doesn’t it?

400-year mark

Since none of us were around for the first Thanksgiving, all we really know today is that we’re one heck of a lot better off today than those first folks could have ever been. This year we can mark the virtual end of a pandemic that wasted away something just over 800,000 lives in this country, and millions throughout the world.

And, we can be thankful that for the most part, our Nation is not at war for the first time in nearly 20 years. There may be a brushfire or two around the world, but for the time being they aren’t our “dog fight.”

From our standpoint, our family is well and safe. They are all well and safe while involved in their vocations and their families.

The Ray house

We’ve had many a fantastic Thanksgiving Day dinners in our family during my adult life, but really nothing like the feast that once came upon the big round table in the dining room of the Ray house.

Fact is, the table would not accommodate all the hungry folks. Kids were relegated to the kitchen table when it had been cleared. If that wasn’t significant seating space there were enough card tables that suddenly appeared for those on down the seniority line.

Cooking on wood

All the cooking for this family horde came, for the most part, out of the one kitchen, from a wood stove. There might have been a limited number of carry-ins, but they were infrequent.

My mother Kathryn, Aunt Bland, and perhaps an older girl or two for running errands, were all supervised by my Aunt Missie. That woman could get more out of a kitchen, fired by “shekan” wood than might be believed.

Topping off any meal she might prepare, perhaps even on Sunday, were her rolls, which we kids always called “Sunday biscuits.”

Splitting fuel

Older boys were sent to the woodshed where they were instructed to find the driest of large pieces and make them fit to keep the big iron stove and oven going at full force.

This wasn’t really all that easy to accomplish, as I can never remember the Ray house having a really sharp ax for the purpose of splitting the wood. Jimmy Turner solved that problem one year, but by the next year it was as dull as ever.

Whole turkeys

Preparations for those meals years ago included acquiring whole turkeys. The size concern was that they fit in the oven. If the crowd was to include another family not always in attendance, there was an electric stove nearby that could be utilized if needed, but cooking preference was the old reliable.

There was never a “popup” indicator in the Thanksgiving turkey in those days. Neither was there such a thing as a turkey breast available.

Today, there have been instances of eating out that it’s been discovered that the art of making dressing might be disappearing. That’s not the case in my family, which is a blessing of the day.

Mitchell’s blessing

Over our Thanksgiving meal in Springfield, will be a prayer for all to be well, to have their families around them. We’re going to be glad they got through the pandemic and that more in the nation will follow the advice of science and medicine. And, most of all, a thanks to God for our existence!

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.