Spicewood Thanksgiving

by Mike Peters

It used to be called the Spicewood Branch of the left hand fork of the Poca.  Now it's just Spicewood or Spicewood Road.  It is in Jackson County, just north of Kanawha's Poca District. Legend says that the area was named for the Spicewood birch tree. Mary Myrtle Huffman Coleman, my great grandmother, said such in one of Adrian Gwin's wonderful "Roving the Valley" columns.  The article appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on 29 July 1963.

"That's a little tree-like sort of a bush, grows wild all around here.  It  smells right good, and you can take and make a tea of it, and it tastes good and is good for your blood too," Grandma said almost 40 years ago.

"It's been called Spicewood ever since I was here, and I was born and raised right up on the hill above Spicewood, " she told Mr. Gwin in her 80th year.

About a mile from the "mouth of Spicewood holler" and about a third of the way to the "head of the creek," friends and relatives gathered this past Sunday to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It was three days past the traditional Thursday, but attendance was still heavy. I counted three cars and four trucks parked between the house and the old barn.  Four-wheelers rested in the beds of two of those pickups.  One cousin had come in from Kanawha County on a brand new Honda motorcycle.  Four more vehicles were across the road in the meadow, just in front of the garden.

The daughters, one remaining son-in-law, grandsons, great granddaughters and a niece of Obert Coleman and Mernia Pritt were there at the old homeplace.  A few in-laws and some friends joined them in celebration.  Some never even knew "Mernie" or "Obe."  Some brought side dishes, cakes and pies.  Others came without food, but brought an appetite and some great conversation.

The middle of three grandsons, Bobby O. Casto, said grace.  Many stood huddled around the dining room table.  The overflow stretched out into the living room one way and into the kitchen the other.  Bobby thanked the Lord for family and friends.  He thanked the Lord for fellowship.  He ended the prayer with a special thank you for the ladies that prepared the feast. Amen!

Feast is an appropriate word.  It is defined as a large, elaborately prepared  meal or a meal that is well prepared and abundantly enjoyed.  Each definition fits.  There was wild turkey beside the store bought version.  Some made ham sandwiches.  There was venison tenderloin.  Green beans, baked beans and corn.  Sweet potatoes. Mashed potatoes and gravy.  Rolls, corn bread and dressing.  Fried apples. Pumpkin, apple and chocolate pies. There were two types of pineapple cake.  One was a pineapple upside down cake and another they called a "pig picking" cake.  It was rightside up and had mandarin orange slices in the vanilla icing.  There was a "George Washington cherry delight."  There were puddings of the "dirt" and banana variety. Five or six ate around the dining room table. About the same number sat in the living room. I went out to the porch. It was an unseasonably warm day for late November.

After the meal, all of the men and one woman sat on the porch and traded hunting stories.  This was like a bunch of fishermen telling us about the one that got away.  Some stories we'd heard before.  The size of the buck's rack had increased since last time the story was told.  The shot now came from further away then you had remembered it.  But that was fine.  That was fuel for the ribbing that followed.  Two young men even brought their eight-point racks as proof of their most recent kill.  No one could doubt their stories with the fresh evidence in their hands.

In Spain, they have the yearly "running of the bulls."  In my family, we have the annual "firing of the guns." Usually right around Thanksgiving.  This year we sat down to a shooting bench, rested our arms on the padded table, leaned forward slightly, placed our guns in the V-shaped rest and fired.  We shot at tin cans, milk jugs, dirt clods and targets. They're always in season. They have no limit.  Don Barnhart, husband to cousin Helen Coleman, brought his "elephant gun."  The silver barrel of the gun weighs about 25 lbs.  He had it specially made.  For what, I don't know.  I believe he called it a "220 Swift."  There was a camouflaged "over and under, " a .223 caliber rifle above a 12-gauge shotgun.  Uncle Bobby J. Casto uses it for turkey.  There were high powered magnums with scopes.  There were semiautomatic military rifles of the past.  Sights were adjusted.  Some of the shooters came out from under their hats with the kick of the guns.  Even if there was pain, no one dared rub their shoulder.  They'd hear about it for years.

Children are taught in grade school that the first Thanksgiving dinner was attended by the Pilgrims and the Indians in the 1600s.  The Pilgrims thanked God for their bounty, as we do today.  But the initial Thanksgiving was also a celebration of survival in the harsh wilderness of the New World.  The Indians had helped us to persevere.

We have become a more civilized nation since the 1600s.  Success and prosperity!  But progress can lead to complacency.  We need to take a few steps back, every now and then.  We need to dance with the partner that brought us.  We need to remember where we come from.  Genealogy at its core!  And we need to teach our children how we got here.

The sun was setting, the temperature was dropping and many had left, when my first cousin, Bobby O. Casto, stood in the front yard and asked a question.  It was a question that would probably have never been asked, had it not been for the terrorist attacks of September 11. "Who would survive if things got really bad here in this country?"  We thought for a moment. He then answered his own question.  "Those who can hunt, trap and fish.  Those who can put out a garden."  Brainstorming brought more answers.  Those who can smoke their meat and can their vegetables.  Those with chickens, milk cows and bulls.  Those who can protect their family.  Those who can keep a roof over their heads.  Those who can chop wood to keep their family warm.  It was a testimonial to the Hank Williams Jr. song, "A Country Boy Can Survive."  It was also a validation of a simpler way of life. The area often referred to as the "backwoods" may be densely settled, but it's not as culturally backward as some would lead you to believe.

Thanks for listening and as my Grandma Coleman used to say, "Ya'll come!"  There's plenty of food, leftover from a Spicewood Thanksgiving.


Mike Peters

Back to Mike's Meanderings