The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

Kempton was always known as the small town with the big heart; the town of my mother’s family beginnings; her grandparents, my grandmother who had passed away in 1958, aunts, uncles and my great aunt, Lulu Pearl. My earliest memories of Kempton were on Thanksgiving Day at Aunt Lu’s two bedroom corner, blue cottage neatly painted in white trim. A vegetable garden was meticulously maintained in the back with her specialties of beets and tomatoes while well-trimmed shrubs surrounded the foundation of the home.

Coming from the city, my immediate family was always the first to arrive while Aunt Lu called the others to join us on her believe it or not box phone with crank and real receptionist named Jenny. That gave me plenty of time to cut out the latest Betsy McCall and her clothes. After the rest of the family arrived, we took our places behind the long table in the dining room eating from her blue willow dishes. Pumpkin pie was always her winning recipe.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break is Grandparents Day at school; a wonderful time for those traveling to see their grandchildren. For our district, Grandparents Day is usually one of the biggest attended events with just grandparents…not sons or daughters who have kindergarten or early elementary children. Just for Grandma,  Grandpa and Grand friends…sometimes Aunts or Uncles if Grandma can’t attend. Over 300 attended today. Many become new Grandparents on that day for children who do not have a guest. A study out of the University of Oxford found children who are close to their grandparents have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and are better able to cope with traumatic life events, like a divorce or bullying at school.

Though she never learned to drive, Aunt Lu would find her way to our house in the city by my cousin every summer. I could always count on a game of Yahtzee every time I offered and she always made the best fried potatoes in town. Because of unpredictable weather, the winter months were generally confined to her little town in Kempton but one year she came to stay and had arrived two days after Christmas. It was unusual for her to venture out in the cold months but my father was in the hospital. Children were not allowed to visit during the 1960’s and Aunt Lu felt she could help.

During her first night’s visit, the phone had disturbed our usual game of Yahtzee and after that I found that Aunt Lu could offer so much more than games. It was a nurse from the hospital; my father had passed away. Though I was 12 and tried to be adult, Aunt Lu let me cry as long as it took, keeping her arms around me, never tiring or disturbing me from my tears. What incredible timing for Aunt Lu’s calming patience in such a terrible storm. Ten years later, Aunt Lu passed away after passionately celebrating her 90th birthday with her family.

Today, I appreciate the towering strength she provided that day and the strenuous days that followed; never perceiving the no pomp and circumstance woman as one of the most salient women I was blessed to know. And I try to follow her loving example everyday reminding myself that every tragedy as has a reason.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Native Americans enrich the tapestry of our American culture’s quilt

By Caryl Clem:

As a young child, I colored pictures of Pilgrims and Native Americans. I remember teepees and 2 seated skin canoes floating down rivers.   Years later, I discovered most of my knowledge about Indians was either false or based on a stereotype. November is the month to honor our Native American Indians.

Powerful prose continuously unites people when they share life’s experiences.  Distances disappear; the common desire for love embraces all. Joy Harjo, who has written poetry, published books and composed songs for decades; a Muskogee Indian was awarded the 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress on June 19, 2019.  Her quote” how time and timelessness can live together in a poem” during one of her interviews provides insight into the depth of her prose.  Playing saxophone in her band, “Arrow Dynamics”, several CD’s of her original music cumulated in receiving Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. Listening to her music allows you experience layers of harmony and song.  Joy currently is writing a book that documents the contributions to jazz the Muskogee Indians can trace back to Congo Square in New Orleans.

New Orleans, Louisiana, world renown for gaudy, fascinating costumes featured during Mardi Gras celebrations. The Port of New Orleans constantly shipped slaves, a key labor force.   Local Indian tribes had had their own conflicts with “White Rule”.   Native Americans helped hide runaway Black slaves during Mardi Gras parades using elaborate costumes as a disguise.

The Cherokee Nation, a tribe from Iroquoian descent, inhabited the eight states in The Great Lakes area. Transportation across the water was done in huge hollowed out tree trunks, averaging 40 feet in length carrying 20 men.  Families built log cabins. The food staples known as the “Three Sisters” of corn, beans, and squash are found in any supermarket. Spices for flavor and medicinal purposes were Sassafras, Sage, Juniper, and various Chile peppers. In 1621, an Indian Chief brought popcorn to a Thanksgiving dinner.  The Spanish introduced peanuts to the Indians who learned to grow them.   In the Northwest, symbols of marriages and births in a family were carved into totem poles: visible sign of their wealth and influence.

Education of its citizens was considered the great equalizer; The Cherokee Nation formed an accepted common language and ran a printing press publishing its own newspaper in the 1820’s.   (Chicago’s earliest printer in 1833.)  The literacy rate of Cherokee citizens in Oklahoma ranked higher than the neighboring states of Arkansas or Texas.  Chief John Ross constructed the Cherokee Female Seminary in 1847, the first higher learning school available for women west of the Mississippi.  The Cherokee Male Seminary opened in 1851.  Cherokee sports included a stick ball game considered the beginning of Lacrosse, a popular sport today.

Native Americans are one of the reasons Americans are able to live in “Land of the Free”. Americans working on dreams coming true, in the country we love, all sharing the foundation given us by those who were here first.

Thankful for brothers

By Caryl Clem

No matter how many cards were surveyed

Not one lengthy card accurately conveyed

The man who is my brother and friend

Thoughtful,wise,whose mind is always open

Searching, discovering innovations

His talent, continually fresh expressions

For your birthday, I wish for you

Feeling pride in what you are able to do

Eagerness to live each day renewed

Stay ageless, conquering time with emotion

As a sister, I couldn’t be luckier

Thankful to have and love you, my brother

Just thankful

The last day of school was my birthday. Now I am old enough to legally retire but I won’t. It was also Grandparents/ Grand friends Day, surrounded by those that know and truly get me. Not one myself…yet But certainly a celebratory holiday before Thanksgiving break. And when I walked into my first grade class yesterday, the other teacher had a plant, chocolate which I can’t live without, and a beautiful portrait of the twenty three girls and boys holding a Happy Birthday sign.  Then as they do for all birthdays in the classroom, they put together a birthday book for me to treasure. I found out that I was osum (awesome), amazing , nice and actually smart. Who knew?

As the day went on Grandparents visited sharing how we had to walk to school, did not have IPADS and didn’t get a holiday called Grandparents Day when we were growing up. Later in the day after the grand group left, we switched gears and decided to focus on the final turkey project: what I was thankful for this year.  I made one too and it didn’t take me long to write how thankful I was for all of them in the classroom.

The day was not over after coming home to Happy Birthday decorations, hundreds of beautiful Facebook messages which I truly appreciated. Finally, the end of the day approached with a wonderful meal at my favorite restaurant with family.

Today, I decided to think about my own writing of what I was Thankful for back in my day when I was a child. I wonder if  had written a thankful message in first grade? Probably not, because I was not very good in that particular grade. I wondered what my own children had been thankful….probably just an extended holiday from school.

I saved many of my own elementary writings that I had recently bound in a book  according to dates through the years.

So I opened the cover of the book today and was shocked to find one of the first writings saved. It was written on November 21, 1967, my birthday just fifty years ago yesterday…..just. I had just turned 12 and it was written in cursive with ,of course, my favorite type of pen, the blue cartridge. And at the top of the paper it said Warren School, Room 104, Grade 7.

I was thankful for Thanksgiving in the Country

I can’t wait to eat my aunt’s turkey, cranberries, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy on Thanksgiving Day. My cousin will be there and we can talk and play games. After dinner we will probably take a ride in the country and see the leaves of red, brown and gold fall from  the trees. We may even see snow. My aunts pumpkin pie will taste good after the long ride. When it is time to leave, I will say to my self “I wish it would never end” but then if it weren’t for the Pilgrims, we would not have this wonderful day to enjoy every year.

Yes, it was family tradition to travel about an hour from the southside of Chicago to a small town just south of Kankakee…in fact there were two towns. When I was very young, it was Kempton where my mother’s family was raised, the small town with the big heart sign always greeted us at the turn off to town and in later years, it was in Cullom, only about 500 people, where my cousins were in charge of dinner just a few miles from Kempton.  Here we would join family for a Thanksgiving feast many who have passed and some who I still keep in touch today.

And my first graders are better writers than I ever was…..

Regardless of whether you are dining together with family or friends in the city or country or spending sometime alone…..Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!