By Betsy Ashton
Our entire family looked forward to Thanksgiving. All the aunts, uncles and cousins would gather in one house or another to enjoy a huge potluck afternoon dinner. The host offered the turkey; other family members brought everything else.
We were hosting that year. Our turkey was in the refrigerator defrosting slowly. 30-pound toms take a long time. My mother had all the stuffing ingredients ready to go: cornbread getting stale on the counter top, celery, apples and raisins in the refrigerator. Plenty of stock to be made from the giblets and neck. This was my first time cooking a turkey. Let's say I was scared to death.
What if it was dry? What if it was raw? What if it snowed and 40 relatives had to crowd into our tiny two-bedroom house? With one bathroom. What if the youngest trio turned from cute to brat in a single heartbeat. We pulled out the leaves for the big table, scattered card tables around the living room. We borrowed extra tables and chairs to be able to seat everyone.
Luck held. It was bright and sunny. Cold, to be sure, but decent weather to play outside if you wore a ski parka. Adults trailed in with a roast goose (now, THAT was a surprise), ham, three more kinds of stuffing, veggies to die for. And pies. Every time imaginable from cherry and apple to pumpkin and pecan. Even mincemeat, which none of the kids would eat because they were sure it had some icky kind of mystery meat in it.
We planned this for weeks. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1963. Our president was dead. Assassinated six days earlier in Dallas. The country plunged into mourning, all but the little ones who, fortunately, didn't understand why we were all so sad. We ate, but everyone was subdued. Not even plentiful amounts of beer could lift spirits. We were cried out, but we couldn't party either. We were all grateful for the plentiful feast, but we thought about the family that had just moved out of the White House.
We lost our innocence. Over the next decade, our country plunged into a war we should never have fought. Riots in the streets made most of us feel unsafe, as black Americans demanded simple freedoms. The freedom to sit on a bus. The freedom to eat where they wanted. The end to racial segregation. Women marched for equality, burned their bras and chanted for equal pay for equal work. The war, the marches, the riots ground our innocence to dust, to be blown away by the rising wind that swept along the plains that long ago Thanksgiving.
I wish we could get that innocence back.