Norman Rockwell…sort of

Well, here we are friends. Another Thanksgiving. Tradition…. but different


Am I alone in realizing that my memories are seen through rose colored glasses? I’ll begin today with these precious rose colored Suzanne memories…and I’ll bet you have plenty of your own.

Thanksgiving when I was a little girl and a teenager was simply perfect. We always had company who joined in the celebration, a beautiful table and tons of food. My mother saw to that. Not until I was an adult did I realize the importance of the guests. I was born in 1958. (ancient, I know) and in the fall of 1960 my mother lost her father to a stroke and broken hip and her brother to a farming accident when the tractor overturned while filling a silo. Just weeks apart.

She was understandably depressed. There were decisions to be made about the farm. Grandma couldn’t take care of it alone…….Rosie Smith was the quintessential farm wife of that time whose task was to care for everything at home but nothing on the farm. She didn’t even drive. Deciding to sell was heartbreaking, life changing.

My mother’s answer to filling the her table that Thanksgiving and thereby distracting everyone from the sadness (I was too young to remember or understand) was to invite those without family to join ours. The Woolvertons, the Caldwells, the Baileys, the Lanes. I grew up thinking they were all relatives. Because they kinda were….

When JoKay and Becky were married in 1969 they brought husbands and even more festivity. The men were always hunting in the early morning hours of the holiday and would drift back in around lunch time. Menus were traditional with the addition of fried venison….. ridiculous amounts of food, laughter and fun.

Often my Aunt Lucille and Uncle Pat would drive in from Tulsa and that made it even better. JoKay and Becky would laugh because the city Aunt would arrive with an exotic recipe and ingredients for a small dish while mother was cooking mass quantities of turkey, dressing, pies, potatoes and veggies.

When lunch was over and all the men were napping or watching football, the women gathered around the piano with coffee and dessert and the Christmas music began. JoKay played piano beautifully and Becky’s voice was so, so good… Ruth Caldwell had a fabulous voice and her favorite was ”Home for the holidays”… gosh to hear her gorgeous alto again would be marvelous. We loved our piano duet books and the joy from the music was palpable

Good times.

To come home from college for Thanksgiving was fabulous. A break from school before finals and piano/voice juries… ugh. I swear to you I can remember sleeping in and what a joy it was for this music major who had music theory at 8:00 five days a week….ha It was always cold upstairs at mother and daddy’s so I would be snuggled up but awake, just listening to mother rattling pots and pans and the smell of the coffee and whatever deliciousness was in the oven….. simply perfection.

But not always perfect....

My senior year at William Woods I was student teaching in Mexico Missouri, about an hour from Fulton. In those days school was not dismissed Thanksgiving week so I worked until 3:30 pm on Wednesday, drove back to Fulton, packed and headed south around 5:00 pm

And then the snow started.

In Houston Mo. I realized I was in a little trouble. The radio was telling me to get off the road, but where to go? I stopped at a payphone and called Daddy. He and Uncle Pat were enjoying dinner and he told me that I was fine, It wasn’t snowing there and I was headed south…..just keep driving. But my awesome driving skills and my little mustang were obviously not up to the task. Somewhere close to the”El Rancho” truck stop I managed to do several circles in the middle of the road and ended up near the ditch, barely missing the semi-truck headed toward me. At this juncture I grabbed my purse and got out of the car and just stood on the side of the road. What most certainly could have been mass murderers picked me up and delivered me to the truck stop. Now what? Didn’t think Buster was the way to go so I called JoKay crying. She calmly told me to stay there (duh) and Jerry and Jack Haney would come in the 4 wheel drive truck to get me.

The next 4 hours or so were let’s say, interesting. A few veiled propositions and offers of rides home from truckers…and one particular comment I”ll always remember, explaining to me that my white mustang was most likely the victim of a snow plow by now.


The cavalry finally arrived and Jack Haney, the hero and driver’s ed guru, drove my mustang while I rode in the truck with Jerry and enjoyed the contents of JoKay’s coffee thermos. We made it all the way to Mammoth Spring when the mustang literally buried up in the snow in front of the First Methodist church. When we got to Becky’s (around 2:00) she had my bed all prepared and I collapsed and thoroughly enjoying the attention and the sympathy.

In retrospect this is a very funny story, and explains why I DO NOT DRIVE in snow.

But as with all things, time, maturity and life don’t always provide the Normal Rockwell picture that you wish for do they?

A few of my life examples not on the Norman Rockwell greatest hits list.

  1. The year mother was in the hospital with terminal breast cancer
  2. The year after, when I was determined to cook the turkey at Daddy’s and forgot to take out the giblet package.
  3. The year I was in treatment and Jack and I ate a hotdog in the Little Rock airport as we flew to Houston for chemo
  4. The same year I went a little crazy and made both the Callahans and my family celebrate together so the boys could have a “normal” holiday. And they did it.
  5. The worst year ever when JoKay suffered a heart attack and died Thanksgiving week with the turkey thawing in the fridge.
  6. My insistence that week that the boys and Jack accompany me to deliver Thanksgiving meals from St. Bernard’s Auditorium in lieu of Thanksgiving, then struggling to find a restaurant open for ourselves.
  7. The Monday morning after JoKay’s funeral when I had bus duty. It was my first year at MacArthur and nobody really knew me or that I had lost my northstar.
  8. Beautiful Thanksgiving celebrations in the years after JoKay died, hosted at Becky’s but with JoKay’s loss always hanging over our heads
  9. Becky’s last celebrations before she died from Ovarian Cancer and her determination that we pray in our family circle but not until each of us shared what we were thankful for.
  10. The realization that our family has grown outward and gathering all together just isn’t feasible anymore…
  11. And now the dreaded COVID virus that keeps us separated our separate families and fearful for our lives.
  12. Not singing “We gather together” at FBC with the organ volume on max..

Has Norman left the building?

Here we are. Each of us searching for things to be thankful for. I’m in the middle of a cancer battle, a dear friend is in the hospital fighting for his life from COVID and there will be no celebration at my house. No papaw or chocolate chess pecan pie just for him.

I recently watched a Michael J. Fox interview where he made the statement, “I’m tired of making lemonade from lemons”…. and I totally related. But still…. there is so much to be thankful for this morning and I”m nothing if not determined to claim it.

  1. The arrival of a 3rd grandbaby. Cooper Jack will be here any day.
  2. Healthy, happy, loved grandchildren
  3. Jack, always the hero of my story
  4. My sons and their beautiful wives
  5. My amazing friends and our relationships
  6. My distant family and our communication…. (something good from Facebook, ha)
  7. My church
  8. My faith
  9. My African violet and my Christmas cactus
  10. My comfy new shoes
  11. The election is over

And lastly… beautiful memories of Thanksgivings past and my anticipation of those to come. God bless all of you this season and let’s try to be thankful EVERY day and not just on Thanksgiving.

Easy to say but difficult to achieve.

Good luck…

Published by swcall58

I'm a wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother....a retired choral director living with stage 4 lung cancer. My faith sustains me and my writing is therapy. Day by Day.

8 thoughts on “Norman Rockwell…sort of

  1. Lovely, Suzanne. And I believe I traveled in that same snow storm after calling my Dad and him telling the the roads were fine. (I knew he was having a late night breakfast at a local diner and called him there). It took four hours to drive 30 miles and I got stuck in my Aunt Karen’s driveway. We didn’t wake her husband, just shoveled enough that I was out of the road. Dad apologized for his take on the weather for years but it was a strange storm that blew in from the south. Karen passed away a few years after this Thanksgiving and I lost my Dad a year ago in August. This will be my first Thanksgiving in Arkansas thanks to COVID and I’m missing my Illinois family. I loved reading your memories.


  2. Beautiful memories of treasured times. Thank you for sharing….your memories are the keys to the treasure chests of my own memories. You are a gifted writer and I am amazed at the details you remember…..and a little jealous!


  3. It always warms my heart to read your memories. You have a great family stories. I feel fortunate to have known your family and can picture in my mind those in your stories. Yes there are always find some blessings in life to be thankful for. Your beautiful memories and sharing them with others is a gift that we all enjoy. Love ya dearly old friend


  4. Suzanne, your stories are so beautiful. I especially love them because they bring back memories. You have been through so much but continue to be an inspiration. I love you like a little sister!


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