Thanksgiving is a time in my memory that takes me back to the days of splendidly set tables, endless rows of holiday delights and friends and family gathered with their heads bowed thanking God for his blessings upon our homes. I can still smell the turkey turning a golden brown, the sage that flavored the cornbread dressing baked from scratch, or the tempting urge to run my fingers through the icing of that double layered coconut cake. None of this would be possible without the endless efforts of those who tirelessly give of themselves to bring all that bounty to the table, mothers, wives, grandmothers and even the men folk on occasion. When I was growing up one talent that both my parents stressed I should acquire was learning to cook for myself. Perhaps it was their foresight that it would not be likely to find many women in my generation willing to dedicate themselves totally to cooking, cleaning and raising children, or perhaps it was my mother’s independent spirit as someone who was before her time. My mother began operating her own restaurant when she was in her 20s, so needless to say she was a career woman long before I entered her life. I think she knew that more and more women in my generation would be entering the workforce and spending more time in the workplace and having less time to cook. However, with my arrival and due to some of my unforeseen health issues, she left the business world to look after me until my health improved enough for her to work again full time. As I grew I helped out all I could, it was not unusual to see me pulling a kitchen chair up to the stove to stand on it as I stirred a pot filled with Campbell’s chicken soup, of course this was after I was taught how not to burn myself. One of my chores once my mother returned to work was to help with evening meals, by preparing the needed ingredients ahead of time. With her help I learned to cook a variety of dishes from Hungarian goulash to Southern style meatloaf. My favorites were the sweets, pineapple upside down cake, pecan and sweet potato pie, which of course barely lasted to the table. When I was around 13-years-old I had the opportunity to solo on my very first holiday meal — turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, slaw and pumpkin pie. Of course, like any good teacher she quietly coached and helped with some of the odd jobs like peeling potatoes, grating the cabbage and carrots, opening cans, and of course getting the turkey started soon enough to be done by meal time. You know, if you do not take that thing out of the freezer a day before you’ll be having fried Spam instead. One thing that to this day I just cannot deal with is those little turkey giblets you put in the gravy. I think gravy is just fine without them swimming in the gravy boat. For this occasion we invited our neighbors, Millie Dobbs and Bessie Yarbray, to join us. I was also in charge of setting the holiday table with our finest linens, bone china, crystal glasses and silver ware. These were always reserved for special occasions and guests. I will never forget my excitement as the meal was set on the table and the guests arrived to see what I had done. The image looked like it could have come right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The evening went without a hitch except perhaps my almost innate ability to drop food in my lap. You would think as large a mouth as God blessed me with that when trying to hit it with a fork you just could not miss it. But I can. I am pleased to report that everyone said they enjoyed the meal and the portions evidenced that. As far as I know there were no late night visits to the emergency room, so I guess you can say the event was a success. I also may have been inspired to pursue this endeavor by the fact that my brother’s wife could not boil water. They spent many evenings sitting around our table. The downside of the event was what at the time seemed to be the ceiling high pile of roasting pans, vegetable pots, casserole dishes, plates, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, and some utensils I don’t even know the name off that loomed over my then still short frame. I always knew that was part of cooking but it really didn’t hit home until I was elbow deep in them. Of course those things don’t bother me as much now, I’ve learned to wash them a little at a time as I go, at least once a month whether they need it or not. I know if I can’t open the kitchen door it’s probably time. As an adult these lessons have served me well, and while cooking is no longer what one might call a passion for me, I do know how. As long as food is available in the absence of someone desiring to cook, I won’t starve. As years go on, I am sure that will be plain to see as I develop an ailment, which afflicts many of my kinfolk, Dunlap disease. My belly dunlapped over my belt. Give thanks for those you love this year and all that God has given you. Even when we find ourselves in hardship there is always someone who is having greater difficulties than we might be facing. Bon appetite and don’t forget to help with the dishes!
About Randall Franks — Actor/entertainer Randall Franks is best known as “Officer Randy Goode” from TV’s “In the Heat of the Night,” a role he performed on NBC and CBS from 1988-1993 and now on WGN America.
Randall is friends with Lee County Courier publisher Jim Clark.