Thanksgiving at the Hinkle home has always been much like yours. Family, food and football are enjoyed. When I was a boy, dad and I would arise early, don layers of clothing and head out across the colorful fields and dales on Uncle Paul’s farm where we had built a new home. The only thing we carried was granddaddy’s 16-gauge Stevens shotgun made in 1927 (That was the same year Babe Ruth smacked 60 home runs for the New York Yankees).
It was on those crispy, cold Thanksgiving mornings dad showed me how to handle that old shotgun, Granddaddy Hinkle used on Thanksgivings past. The thing kicked like mule but was a family rite of passage. Two or three shots and I had a shoulder bruise the size of Tennessee.
It would perturb mom when dad and I returned and shed our clothing. Once shirtless the bruise on my right shoulder attracted her attention. She’d roll her eyes and glare at dad; whose only response was a wry grin.
She reluctantly understood. I had been begging for my own shotgun and she knew dad was prepping me. When I was 10 years old, I got it, a 20-gauge Springfield good enough to shoot squirrels and Peter Rabbit – without sustaining a bruised shoulder.
Thanksgiving was one of the few times dad and I spent time alone because he worked so hard to provide for our family of five. He would always use our early morning Thanksgiving hunts to talk to me about a variety of things, ranging from the “birds and the bees” to “I dare not relieve myself and contact an electric fence.” Yowza! Dad and I were never affectionate. But I knew, especially during the holidays, he loved me and wanted me to grow to be a godly man. He set a great example, faithfully loving my mom for 38 years before the Lord called him home in 1989. He was a crackerjack deacon and a stalwart in the tenor section of our church choir.
As much fun as we had hunting Bugs Bunny, we just as eagerly looked forward to getting home where mom was cooking her traditional Thanksgiving feast. Mom does not make turkey for Thanksgiving. She cooks a hen because the broth makes her cornbread dressing super-charged with flavor. Her homemade giblet gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans and fresh, sweet corn she had frozen from the summer picking season and pecan pies covered the table. The term “larruping” comes to mind. Larruping is not a drug, it means “goooood” in the Hinkle dictionary. Her dressing and giblet gravy were larruping! Mom taught me how to make it, and as I’ve traveled the world for 40-plus years, I’ve stored her recipe in my memory.
As I think back, Thanksgiving was always a day for us to be thankful for the Lord’s provision and protection. As I enter the twilight of my life and look back, I do so with a heart full of thankfulness to God for giving me two loving parents who taught me to sit up straight, hold a fork properly at the dinner table, chew with my mouth closed, say “thank you, yes maam” and “yes sir.”
Dad worked hard to provide for us, enabling mom to stay home with us kids. Being their first child, I had the blessing of having mom all to myself during the daytime my first six years. Many nights, while mom prepared supper before dad got home, I would often lie on my belly, sprawled out on the kitchen floor studying the baseball or college football box scores in the now defunct Nashville Banner. It felt so right, lying there, occasionally looking up at mom, watching her cream the potatoes, mix her coleslaw and stirring the hog jowl in her pot of white beans. And she was doing it all just for dad and me.
I realize much has changed in our world since those days in the early 1960s. Mom still does her Thanksgiving thing. I have rarely been home for a Thanksgiving since I left for the Air Force on Nov. 7, 1977. But as the old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” So this year I’m going home for Thanksgiving. I suspect some of the Thanksgiving memories – like those I have shared with you – will be my companion as I roll toward Music City USA.
Thank you, Lord.