Roy Exum: Tomorrow’s Box Lunch

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Growing up mine was a family that has always loved the Lord so giving Him thanks for our riches and blessings was included before every meal the year round. But every Thanksgiving at our house far eclipsed any of those glorious Norman Rockwell pictures you’ll see. Seems to me like we cooked for a whole week beforehand and, by the time we’d leave for church on Thanksgiving Day, the kitchen would already be overly crowded. All three ovens would be hot before daybreak and our dogs would stay in a frenzy, easily smelling what they couldn’t see. Both my mother and my Dad would invite anybody they knew who was going to be alone, so we’d have about 40 places at the big table and one or two “children’s tables” that made sure everybody had a seat.

There was never a time I can remember the crowd did not spread into the living room and the den, and when we would get back home from church and all the guests would arrive, the annual pageant would begin.

One of us older boys would read about being thankful from at least three different places in the Bible – and, oh yes, earlier in the week we were required to practice a lot. My younger sisters made Pilgrim hats out of brown construction paper and Franklin, being the youngest of us four boys, went around Scotch-taping silver Puritan-like square “buckles” on every man’s shoes so we’d feel like we were Myles Standish or somebody. Susan, older than my sister Ellen, would dress up like a squaw and Jonathon would tell everybody about Squanto, the little Christian Indian. I’d then chime in about Governor Bradford inviting the Indians to the first-ever Thanksgiving and back then my inherited Southern accent (a true story for another day) would just murder Chief Massasoit’s name, much less his tribe, the Wampanoags.

Finally, we’d get through it – every stranger in the crowd a bit leery of a family like ours – but everybody had a place-tag so that part was easy. We’d circle the table, all holding hands, and my grandfather would bless the food still wearing his Pilgrim’s hat. My dad, who was from a plantation in the middle of Mississippi, made the meal a Deep South delight. Two big turkeys and a Smithfield ham would already be carved, the mashed potatoes seeming to float in melted butter and the smell of vinegar over the turnip greens. They would sprinkle some bits of pimento in the corn, but then the fun would really start.

The huge trays of dressing are what first got the strangers mystified, for they’d never seen baked oysters included in the dish. That helped the dressing stay moist, and the heavy dash of sage mingled with those oysters caused folks’ second helpings to be bigger than their first. The sweet potato souffles would have more pecans and melted marshmallows than yams, but the show stopper, year after year, was the creamed hominy. It is a dish made of corn, much just like grits but using the whole kernel. The recipe that has withstood generations calls for lots of heavy cream, mounds of butter, and light salt and pepper. Dad had two beautiful little silver pitchers. In one was Louisiana pepper sauce that he’d dab a couple of your oysters with, and another held brandy that he would carefully measure just a drop or two atop the hominy.

Some years, more than not, we would have homemade to start – lobster bisque when we couldn’t locate any she-crab – and by the age of seven I knew that too much sherry would ruin your soup but the least bit would made it divine better than cotton candy. One year mother tried a butternut squash soup but soon after it was decreed that if the main ingredient in the soup never crawled, it was banned. Gosh … steamed rice, half-cooked asparagus, buttered biscuits as well as Belle’s rolls. There would be tomato aspic, maybe some doves-in-bacon from the freezer. The cranberry sauce, homemade, could double as jelly on a biscuit, 

Man, I remember it all like it was yesterday. But now that’s no more. I don’t fret over it, instead embrace the logic, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Millions attribute that quote to our beloved Dr. Seuss, but the truth is, Ted Gesell (his real name) never wrote nor said it. “Goodreads,” a definitive source with over 20 million subscribers, claims it is easily among the most appreciated of all quotes ever said, but after all these years thousands of scholars have been unable to find out who first said it. As an “unsourced” jewel, I figure we can all claim it.

In honesty, my Thanksgivings have changed a good bit over the years, like yours have, but not to worry; tomorrow I’ll be among a crowd I not only adore, but find that when I think of what I’m all that I am most thankful for one reason is that I am lucky enough … no, ‘blessed’ fits better … to be in their presence. Trust me, I’ll well-planned. How can any of us be that is better than that?

After all, this is the first Thanksgiving I’ve had a “box lunch.” Before my mother died, she asked my sister Ellen to tend to me on holidays because they can be tough on the lonely. Earlier this week Ellen called to tell me to be on the lookout for a Thanksgiving box and I started laughing. Ellen’s Christmas boxes are legend, with all manner of wacky things you immediately treasure, and my imagination took off at a rapid pace. But not even in my wildest dreams was I ready when I opened the two boxes.

* * *


* -- Six packages of Amish freeze-dried fruit

* -- Korean Inspired & Seasoned Pork Belly bites

* -- Half-Pound of Amish Toasted Corn.

*  --Jar of Amish Elderberry Jelly

* -- 12 oz. Amish Salted Corn Chips with Flax Seed.

* -- Black Sesame & Ginger Marinated Turkey Jerky

* -- Annie Chun’s Organic Seaweed Snacks

* -- Dehydrated Orange Slices

* -- Amish Mixed Vegetable Chips

* -- Pkg. of paper bowls (Thanksgiving motif)

* -- 6 boxes of Ocean Spray ‘Craisins’ (dried cranberries)

* -- Amish Mini-Oyster crackers

* -- Amish Honey-Mustard Lover’s Snack Mix (Recipe I)

* -- Yoder’s Cashew Crunch.

* -- Paper Napkins, Harvest motif (recipe printed inside of each)

* -- Lupini Snack with Garlic and Herbs (lightly pickled for fresh taste)

* -- Amish Little Cheesers (small cheddar-tasting pretzels shaped like a peace sign)

* -- Amish Mini Pretzel Balls

* -- Amish Honey Mustard Lover’s Snack Mix (Recipe II)

* -- Original Hunter’s Recipe Venison Steak Bites Jerky

* -- Justin’s Butters (like peanut butter) In Maple, Honey & Chocolate Hazelnut with Almonds flavors.

* -- Six pkgs. of 1,000 mg Vitamin C powders (Super Orange) … goes good with vanilla ice cream. 

* -- 3-Liter jug of ‘100-percent real’ Cranberry Juice.

* -- 1.75 Liter jug of Smirnoff Recipe 21 vodka. (so help me; Ellen actually mailed vodka!)

* * *

C’mon, how good is this! Ellen assures me this is much more healthy than those feasts from yesteryear, and I laughed over the label on every package, but, I’ll declare, a bowl of hominy and mother’s famed Chocolate Log at the end of every thanksgiving for over 50 years will stick in my mind forever … just like Annie Chun’s Organic Seaweed and the Korean-Inspired Pork Belly Bites are already at risk to be forgotten. I can only imagine that is why the most beloved sister any man ever had made sure to remember the Smirnoff.

* * *

About two years before Mother and her sister Martha McDonald died not two days apart, Thanksgiving seemed to sneak up on us so I sprung an idea where I told them I would handle it. “Dress casual and comfortable; this won’t be a big deal,” I told them as I picked them up and drove to a Cracker Barrel restaurant. To be honest I had a jug of wine inside my coat, with a couple of Solo cups you couldn’t see through lest it give away the contents, so they were agreeable to anything by the time we got to “the country store.” I immediately waved away the menus and then got two absolutely adorable servers to the side and promised, “I’ll give each of you the biggest tip you’ll have all day if you will follow these instructions: I want three empty plates for me and those two girls over there who are both over 80. Lots of extra napkins. Then I want you to bring us a good-sized serving of every dish on your dinner menu.  The three of us will share, and then you bring me about four to-go cartons and let’s see how we do?” Lord have mercy, what unfolded was the most delightful Thanksgiving feast you’ve ever seen and up until they died in 2014, I can’t tell you how many times both wanted to recreate the laughter and the moment once more. That’s my favorite Thanksgiving memory.

* * *

* -- “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” -- 1 Chronicles 16:34

* -- “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” – Psalms 95:2

* -- "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

* -- “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” Psalm 100:4

* -- “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.” – Psalms 100:1-5

* -- “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.' -- Numbers 6:24-26

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