Thanksgiving Dinner at Big Mama’s House Thanksgiving Story 11/25/21
The Martin clan had been gathering for thanksgiving dinner at big Mama’s house in Atlanta for over 40 years. Her mama hosted the Thanksgiving dinner in the same house before she died. Big Mama was now in charge. She was 75 years old, God fearing, energetic, strong and feisty. Family members came from Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York and the Atlanta area to this affair. This was an event that no family member wanted to miss.
Well, it was Thanksgiving Day and near the 5:00 pm dinner hour. Three rectangle tables positioned in horseshoe fashion were set. There were place settings on both sides of the two leg tables to accommodate all of Big Mama’s family. Family members who were going to bring out the food were waiting for Big Mama to give the command.\
Sam, Big Mama’s oldest son was sitting in the middle of the head table like he was the king of the family. Always, talkative, he said that “I’m sho glad we are having sweet potatoes.” His wife replied, “Sam you know we always have sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving.” Then Sam shouted, Mama, when are we going to start eating? I’m hungry!
Big Mama said, “we a coming” and asked, “is everyone at the table?” “Yes,” someone said, everyone except Jamal. “Jamal”, Big Mama hollered, “get out here, we are getting ready to eat.” Jamal, 19 years old and home from Howard University for the Thanksgiving holiday came out of his room and said he wasn’t going to eat.
“You sick?” asked Big Mama. “No”, said Jamal, “I just don’t think black people should be celebrating Thanksgiving.”
No one could believe what they had heard. Big Mama told Jamal to get back in his room because she wanted to talk to him about this foolishness. She told everyone, “we are not going to bring the food out until I talk some sense into Jamal.” Sam shouted, “what are we supposed to be doing while you are talking to Jamal?” Big mama replied, “entertain everybody with your stories and lies Sam. You are good at that.”
Big Mama marched her grandson Jamal to his room and closed the door. Jamal and his mother had been living with Big Mama for over 10 years. She told him to sit on the bed beside her and explain why he did not want to celebrate Thanksgiving. Jamal replied that celebrating Thanksgiving was celebrating a white man’s big lie. Big Mama said, “you better explain yourself boy.”
Jamal went on to say, “school textbooks and children’s story books have long fantasized about Thanksgiving Day as the time Pilgrims and Indians came together for a great feast. Actually, in the year 1637, the Massachusetts governor declared ‘Thanksgiving’ to celebrate a victory in a battle with the Pequot Indians. Well, that wasn’t a battle. The Colonists massacred 700 Pequot Indians. Instead of telling the real story of Thanksgiving, American history kept it covered up in order for us to believe that the Pilgrims and Colonists got along with the Indians and they lived in perfect harmony. “That was a big lie Big Mama, the white man mistreated and annihilated the Indians and then placed the rest on reservations. The Indians didn’t pass the baton to the white man. He stole that baton and their land too.
“Now the brutal treatment of Indians are things that we as black people can relate to,” continued Jamal. “We endured brutality as slaves of the white man and also the conspiracy to cover up treatment of us not only as slaves on the plantation but also on those slave ships that brought us to America. We see the same pattern today with the many deaths in the black community and the effort to cover up facts and details. Thanksgiving is the white man’s celebration, not the black man’s, the Indian nor any minority in this country. That is why I can’t see myself celebrating this day, Big Mama.”
While Jamal was making his point with Big Mama, Sam was entertaining everyone else with his stories and facts about Thanksgiving. Big Mama was now standing up in Jamal’s room with her hands on her hips. She said, “now it is my turn to talk Jamal, our Thanksgiving celebration has got nothing to do with pilgrims, Indians, slavery or the white man. We are celebrating family and the blessings that the Lord has bestowed on us. Thanksgiving was not invented in America; Africans have celebrated their blessings for thousands of years. They call it a harvest festival.”
“People from tribes came together to give thanks for rain and good crops and other blessings. In fact, there was a yam festival. Yes, the yams that we eat, they come from Africa. They celebrated with good food, singing, dancing, painted faces and the wearing of costumes. I bet they are following that same tradition today”, she said.
Jamal jumped in and asked, “what about the slaves? They were not celebrating Thanksgiving. A lot of them took this time as an opportunity to try to escape. What made this a good time to escape was the fact that the slave owners were busy celebrating Thanksgiving. They let their guard down and some slaves took advantage of this. And in the north during Thanksgiving, Black pastors gave sermons about the abuse of slavery and often pleaded for a slave-free America,” he added.
Big Mama emphasized that, “Thanksgiving is about family. Even during slavery under restricted conditions, Thanksgiving was a time for family. Family members who were slaves on nearby plantations were allowed to come together in some cases. These family members and friends would enjoy wild game that the men caught for meat. And the women would prepare cornmeal cakes, or pone cakes to go along with the game. They would also prepare a dish called kush or kush-kush. It is made of stale cornbread cooked in a skillet with meat broth. Out of kush came cornbread dressing. They also had macaroni pie. We call it macaroni and cheese today.”
Big mama continued schooling Jamal about family. She said, “during the period when black people started migrating to the North for better opportunities, it was family that held them together. You see, many did not find what they were looking for in the North. They did not find good paying jobs or decent places to stay.
They found prejudice, discrimination, and disappointment. However, they would, like your great uncles, always come back home to be with family on Thanksgiving. Being with family was like a recharging station. It gave them the boost, energy, and confidence to go back up North and fight their way through any problem that held them back from getting ahead.
Yes son, Thanksgiving is a time for family members to come together and celebrate the blessings that God has bestowed on them. Family is a place where you can find structure, memories, a sense of belonging and love. We are going to celebrate our family today with good food, good conversation and laughter. I love my family. You are family and I love you all. Now, I’m going out there and sit at the dinner table with my family. And I’m going to enjoy all of the lies, stories, gossip, rumors, updates and jokes. We are going to have a great time! I wish that you would join our family Jamal.” As Big Mama was leaving Jamal’s room, she hollered out, “put the food on the table!”
Well, the food was placed on the tables and everyone was anxious to start eating. Jamal’s chair was still empty. Big Mama said, “Sam, say the grace, you are the patriarch of the family.” Before Sam could get started, Jamal showed up and asked if he could join them? Big mama said, “you are family, aren’t you?” Everyone at the table said in unison “sit down.” Jamal asked Big Mama if he could say grace? Sam nodded his approval and she replied, “of course son, you a man now.” Jamal asked everyone to bow their heads and he prayed:
“O heavenly Father hallowed be thy name. Thank you for my family. What a blessing for me to have my family members gathered in my house for this Thanksgiving celebration. Lord, they have come from all over. They were drawn here by You and a need and love to be with family. Bless every family member here. Lord, I shudder to think what I would do without this family. With them I will never feel alone.
So, Lord, I just want to say, thanks. You have been so good to this family. Now, Lord, bless this food and the people who prepared it. Amen.”
There was silence for a few seconds. Big Mama was trying to hold back tears. Then the silence was interrupted by Sam, “Boy, I didn’t think that you would ever get through praying”. “Pass the sweet potatoes please”, he said.