The earliest memory I have of any Thanksgiving is from 1956. At the age of six and in the first grade, I had an uncluttered mind and a desire to see and learn everything I could.
My father was a young country preacher with a wife and three children, pastoring a small church in the little town of VanDuser about 15 miles west of Sikeston.
The income for his position was limited, but my mother kept a good garden, Dad hunted, trapped and fished for meat – with me tagging along, of course – and the people of the church shared with us from their gardens and canned goods. From time to time someone would butcher a hog or beef and we would get fresh meat – primarily hogshead for headcheese and the ears and jowls to cook with a pot of beans, pigs feet also to cook with beans and rice, and even chicken feet, which we fried and then gnawed the meat from the bone. Occasionally we would also get some prime cuts and those were special times.
This particular Thanksgiving week, Dad was asked to speak at a Thanksgiving service on Tuesday night before the holiday and, since he would be returning late and after dark, my mother chose to keep the kids at home that night.
On Dad's trip back from Sikeston, he crested a small hill in the family's little Nash Rambler and was faced with a herd of cattle crossing the road directly ahead of him. [Missouri was an "open range" state up until the late 60s, so livestock on the road was a regular occurrence.] He managed to miss the main group of cattle, but one cow had been lagging behind and tried to cross just as Dad thought he was through the mess. He hit the beast rolling her up on the hood, over the top and onto the trunk lid before finishing her tumble into the ditch.
Needless to say, the little Nash was almost flattened, but the motor still ran, the hood and trunk lid could be fastened down with a couple of wire clothes hangers (a must for every tool box in those days), and Dad lay in the car seats and pushed the roof of the car back into some semblance of its original state with his feet.
Going to a nearby farm house, he awoke the farmer and reported the accident and told the farmer his cow was still alive and needed to be shot, and asked for the Highway Patrol to be called.
Upon dressing and going down to the scene of the accident, the farmer determined that it was not his cow, and he did not know whose it might be.
Upon arrival, the Highway Patrolman surveyed the scene asked a couple of questions and then reached for his revolver.
"Do you want me to put your cow out of its misery?" he asked the farmer.
"Not my cow."
That's not your cow?"
"Then whose is it?"
"Are you sure?"
The patrolman nodded his head, looked one last time at the farmer and then turned to my Dad.
"Preacher, do you want me to put your cow out of its misery?" he asked with a sly smile.
"Sure, thank you," Dad replied.
The patrolman then went to his radio and directed the dispatcher to call a number my father gave him. In less than a half hour a member of our church arrived with a flatbed truck and winch and Dad took legal possession of the stray cow with no owner.
The next day, all the men of the church gathered at a local barn and butchered "the Preacher's cow," and the different families shared freezer space with our family that year as we consumed every edible part of that cow.
Thanksgiving day, Mom left the two rabbits in the freezer from which she was going to make Thanksgiving Stew, and we had fresh beef for Thanksgiving.
That winter my family ate better than I can ever remember – and Dad drove that old beat-up Nash until I was in the third grade when we moved to another town with a larger church and Dad bought a new 1958 Baby Blue Chevrolet Belaire with the curved fenders.
But that's another story for another time.