~ Thanksgiving in Montvale ~
Montvale is a small village in Virginia at the lower end of the Shenandoah valley in the
Blue Ridge mountains, between Roanoke and Bedford. Today it is mostly old houses and a
lot of dang trailer houses but back before the depression, we say from Reconstruction
until the depression it was a thriving community and when I was born and we moved there
it had like so many other places been ravaged by the depression. What I want to do is to
tell you not about our village and the history, no all I want to do is to tell you about
Thanksgiving in the village as I saw it as a small boy who came there just before he was
two and who left there the day he turned eighteen.
Never realized how temperate it was until I left there to see the world and then settled
in Wyoming. Fall lasted on up into November and sometimes December so a lot of
Thanksgiving happenings were based on the weather. By the time I was a boy we had two
country stores, Mrs. Bromena’s and Mr. Garrett’s with Brud Gray’s store opening much
later and catering to the Porter’s Mountain folk.
My mother was a school teacher, first over the mountain in a small one room school on
Bore Auger and then down at Thaxton a much larger school that had a teacher for each of
it’s seven grades and each grade had their own room plus across the road they had the
lunch room in what used to be a gas station. My father was an electrician/linesman and
had a good reputation as one of the best although he was illiterate. He could read a
little and could sign his name which kept him from getting a foreman’s job; that being
the top for folks in our strata of the world. They had moved to Montavale in April 1935,
moved into the N & W Section house; a typical place, kerosene lights, coal stoves a pump
in the back yard and the two holer out on the corner of the place. In 1941 my mother and
father bought the Dr. Price's house. He too had gone bankrupt with the big bust.
Our house was eleven rooms and had been a show place before the bust, then rented as
apartments and was run down when we moved in. But we were in tall cotton since we had one
bathroom, electric lights and running water.
For Poppa it was a long weekend, days off which meant no pay for two days so if he were
working close he worked on Friday, but school was out so momma got
Friday off. Thanksgiving morning was like a week end for the family sat down to a normal
big country breakfast, fried salt pork, biscuits and gravy or maybe even pancakes or
waffles. Our family meals were sacrosanct so we ate together.
After breakfast I was off and gone for it was a special day. If it were cold, chilly and
we had a little snow it mean families were hog killing. Families and groups went together
and helped each other to do that fall chore. A big old tank with a fire under it to
provide hot water for scalding the hogs before they were scraped of hair and then placed
on a large table where they were cut up. There were a few men who were really good at
butchering so they knew exactly how to cut up a hog.
The neat one was but we could not take part was shooting matches. Some were for rifles
and some were for shotguns; each man put money in the pot, each shot and the man closest
to the center won. The host was a farmer down in a field behind his house put up a few
turkeys, chickens, pigs, can goods and of course money. No they did not shoot at a live
turkey like Gary Cooper did in Sergeant York.
We boys would run and get the targets after they were shot and pick up all the empty
shotgun shells. Of course a few miscreants always spoiled it because they would have a
bottle or jug and if a certain man was not in jail and was there a man could buy a pint
for two dollars.
Meanwhile at my house this was one of those days where we ate in the formal dining room
instead of the kitchen; the dining room being on the other side of the large pantry, with
yes a swinging door, large built in china cabinet and my parents big formal dining room
set. Poppa’s chair, the one with arms had been broken and had been taped together. (Oh I
repaired the chair when my son Mike had it in his house many years later) Thanksgiving
dinner was normally like most Sundays at our house a large roasted hen. The only folks
that had turkey were those in the movies, rich folk and some who lived on the mountain
and shot a wild one.
Turkey day meant three or five friends eating with us and it was to me great for it was
the day, well the first time momma put out the fruits of her summer labor of canning.
Cucumber pickles, beet pickles, pear pickles, onion pickles, peach pickles and so on and
a few of her jams and jellies. She spent from spring until winter canning or as they said
back there and then “Putting up” things. Being of country stock and the old folks
remembering after the Civil War, we lost for we and all around wore the Gray and our
folks the depression you raised, canned and put up and put away every kind of food stuff
you could to carry you through the winter.
There was this huge baked hen, with dressing and gravy, lots and lots of homemade light
rolls, green beans with taters, sweet taters fixed two or three ways, corn pudding, on
and on until the table was completely full. The neat thing was momma would always make a
pan of light rolls really brown for me. Now on this day I could eat all I wanted,
remembering not to take too much chicken for it had to be for all. We would sit and talk
and eat and then it was desert, pumpkin pie, pecan pies, butterscotch pie with fresh
coconut and a two inch meringue.
Talk was politics, the Presbyterian church and an occasional bit of dirt or gossip. We
three children were allowed to take part, giving our opinions and thoughts on most
subjects, it was a free forum. But step out of bounds and when the company left the wrath
of our mother came down on us. We were brought up not to act silly or say stupid things
but to show our intellect and discuss. As I got older I loved it for I could recite a lot
of scripture and had read most every best seller and of course all the classics. But
being a boy after the meal and dessert and when everyone left the table I was free to go
and do until bed time which is what I of course did.
© By Tom (tomWYO@aol.com)