I have absolutely no memories of Thanksgiving in Oysterville during my childhood. Mostly, I’m sure, that is because I was seldom here for that particular holiday. If my parents and I were coming north from California during “the season,” it was invariably at Christmas. But even so… we were here – or at least in nearby Portland – until I was five and then for the entire 1947/48 school year when I was eleven/twelve. No Thanksgiving memories.
On the other hand, I do remember that every single dinner-time meal, no matter how few of us were at the table, began with a blessing. Usually, it was my grandfather, Harry Espy, who did the honors and, on a day-to-day basis, the prayer was short: “Lord, bless this food to our use and us to thy service, Amen.”
When it was a large family gathering, especially if ‘the relatives’ were all here, the grace said before the meal was often longer, much to a fidgety little girl’s impatient distress. If my Uncle Edwin Espy were among those present, he was asked to say the blessing since he spent his life in “church work” finishing his distinguished career as General Secretary of the National Council Churches. “The Protestant Pope” the newspapers often called him.
The only saving grace (so to speak) when Ed gave the blessing was that he had a distinctive speech pattern. His beginning and medial r’s were soft (as were my grandmother’s) and the family always said it was the Southern influence of my great-grandmother Richardson. Privately, I always thought Ed sounded a bit like Elmer Fudd and I got through those prayers waiting for the next r-word and trying to remain solemn.
It’s interesting to me that in all of the hundreds and hundreds of family letters that have been saved in this household, I’ve seen very few references to Thanksgiving. During Medora’s lifetime (1899-1916), the holiday was mentioned only three times and all three in the correspondence of 1914.
On Monday, November 2, 1914 my grandmother wrote to her daughter Medora who was attending Portland Academy: How I do wish you were home! How long will your Thanksgiving vacation be? On Sunday, November 22nd, she wrote again: Will you please bring two heads of celery and two of lettuce sure. I must have these for Thanksgiving dinner.
Crossing in the mail was a letter to Mama from Medora, also written on November 22nd, in which she said: I don’t know how we are ever going to accomplish all I want to do Thanksgiving vacation but I think we will finish it all for Bunch [school chum, Rosetta Klocker] won’t need any entertaining. As long as she can eat cream and play with the babies she will be satisfied. [The “babies” were Medora’s younger brothers Edwin (age 5) and Willard (age 3), and sister Dale (age 2) who would one day be my mother.]
But, even though the Thanksgiving holiday does not stand out in my memory, I have no doubt that it was celebrated one way or another. It’s just that it was like so many other dinners at the family table – lots of people (which often meant turkey as a convenient way to feed the multitudes) and a prayer of thanks before we began. In a way, there have been hundreds of “thanksgivings” in Oysterville. It’s only in recent times that we’ve made a Big Deal about it.