November 26, 2020 By Jerry Carlson — Mom opened the oven door on the golden-bronze turkey, and the captivating aroma weaved from the kitchen into into our living room. Uncle Frank, Uncle Ralph, Uncle Clifford and my Dad Glenn stopped talking cattle prices and began arranging chairs around the extended dining room table.
That very special Thanksgiving was November, 1952. I had just turned 16, and had a real driver’s license (not just a “school permit” which since age 14 I’d considered a ticket to anywhere.) My 18-year-old cousin Ted Hoxie and I set up card tables for the kids and carried from the kitchen huge serving bowls of steaming sweet corn, green beans, turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce. Every table had at least one bowl of fresh salad. My sister Carolyn and her two lovable cousins, Joyce and LaCasta, poured fresh water into glasses, and everyone found a chair in front of a big plate. Dad prayed with humble thanks for family, abundance and peace. As long as I could remember, Dad had taught a Sunday school class at the First Presbyterian Church in Essex, Iowa.
My Dad and uncles were all livestock farmers in the rolling hills of southwest Iowa’s Page, Mills and Fremont Counties. We owned 240 acres, and I took serene joy in feeling both blessed by family and secure on our land.
Uncle Clifford and Uncle Frank soon had everyone laughing. Clifford teased Frank about his run for Iowa Senator (which he won in 1954, and served for eight years). Our Hoxie clan, on Mom’s side of the family, was close-knit and hilarious.
Ted Hoxie and I stuffed ourselves for 20 minutes, then quietly eased outside with our .22 rifles for a brief rabbit hunt along the creek. No snow. No rabbits. So we competed in shooting tin cans off tops of fence posts, and hitting the windmill a quarter-mile away. Ted had a lever-action Marlin 39A .22-caliber rifle, and could pick off a sparrow from the ridgepole of the barn. He could hit a tossed-up tin can twice before it hit the ground.
The smoothly coordinated squad of aunts — Helen, Mary, Carrie along with my Mom Lucille — cleared the tables, washed dishes and prepared dessert: Cherry pie, apple pie, pecan pie, topped with exquisite Falk Sisters ice cream made right in Essex, Iowa with fresh raw cream from a local dairy herd.
Dad and all four uncles put on their coats and walked to the feedlot for the annual inspection of our usual 120 head of Hereford yearlings. Leaning on the white-painted fence, they all estimated the steers’ average weight, and debated Kent Feed versus Nutrina. With them went three older cousins: Maurice, Wayne and Richard, now WWII veterans.
Another huge attraction on the mens’ tour: Dad’s new Bowsher feed grinder. It was a burr mill which ground ear corn or shelled corn to precise granular size without the grain dust a hammer mill produced. Dad, always an innovator, rolled open the corncrib door to show the men his favorite new implement: a two-row Allis-Chalmers ear corn picker mounted on our Allis-Chalmers WD tractor. (The tractor had cost $1,830 in 1951.) Dad was much in demand for “opening up” cornfields for neighbors who had pull-type cornpickers. We quickly learned to keep corn shucks from packing around the exhaust manifold, and always carried a fire extinguisher.
After an hour roaming outside, the men, eager for dessert, congregated again in their man-cave section of the living room while my aunts huddled in the kitchen for “Mom talk.”
Uncle Frank, our family politician, reassured everyone why our just-elected President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had carried every state outside the South. “We can continue helping rebuild Europe and Japan, and go on to construct our own interstate highway system,” Frank intoned, puffing on a late-afternoon cigar.
Nowhere in that day was there discord about genetically modified crops, or glyphosate toxicity, or a “Chinese virus” pandemic, or a corrupted election. Most of us had a decent sense of confidence that what the newspapers and radio reported was true, as best the reporters could determine. We couldn’t imagine high-tech internet oligarchs who’d censor important news opposed to their superior opinions. Two years later when I attended Iowa State, debates on all issues were encouraged. Among my journalism colleagues was Robert Bartley, who went on to become editor of the Wall Street Journal.
Since that November 1952 day of concentrated family joy and well-being, I’ve seen how Americans have healed many of our national flaws by re-asserting traditional values of faith, racial respect, and family cohesion.
We can’t go back to the 1950s. But we can preserve, reassert, and rebuild the foundations which we honor each Thanksgiving — in America!