The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grandpa's Thanksgiving Squirrel

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: November, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

We grew up believing that every day is a day for giving thanks. My parents were good church folks and they held God, country and family above all else. We knew more about Benjamin Franklin, Robinson Crusoe and Kaiser "Bill" than we knew about celebrations.

We lived a stone's throw from my paternal grandfather's farm. His other sons and daughters lived at a farther distance from him, and they were not at the homeplace as often as we were. Grandpa was sort of a gadfly. He believed that the German Kaiser started the First World War (1914-1918) and he grumbled that Americans "fought all of England's wars."

He kept himself informed on current events. He was the only person I knew who purchased a book telling the mournful story of the Titanic, a British liner which sank April 14, 1912. That happened before I was born, but he was still grieved about the drowning victims, not that he knew a soul on the ship's register.

On this particular Thanksgiving Day, the four oldest of Mama's children went to our grandfather's house. Soon after our arrival, Grandpa lifted his long barreled shotgun from the rack over the front door, and he said, "Nan, I'm going to kill a squirrel."

Grandma started a pot of water boiling. It was scarcely no time at all when Grandpa returned with a skinned squirrel, dripping with rich red warm blood - killed with his first shell - and she made squirrel dumplings She baked hot biscuits and a pot of boiling coffee filled the kitchen with delicious aroma.

At the table, she gave us a portion of peanut butter she had ground, mixing parched peanuts and melted butter through the sausage grinder. We didn't make any formal declaration of thanks, but our gratitude was there, bubbling over on our faces. We knew happiness such as we felt had to be "sent down."

Afterward we sat by the fire and Grandma passed around red fall apples, and rich brown chestnuts Grandpa had brought up from his daily ramble over his fields and woods. He showed us a handful of shiny rose-and-silver speckled rocks, and a few scrubby rocks, which he thought might contain gold. He had somehow missed out on the gold fever that led fathers and grandfathers, as well as younger men, on the westward trail in 1849, and to the Yukon Territory in the 1890's. Grandpa was still hopeful that his own farm would turn into a second Klondike.

After he stored the rocks with his growing collection of field-treasurers, he read to us from his Titanic book. He showed us pictures of very rich people such as the Astors, who had made the trip on the ship's maiden voyage - a voyage that ended in disaster on the cold Atlantic Ocean. Beneath the pictures there were notations, telling briefly about the victims, whether writers, entertainers, society people or others making the trip for reasons that had nothing to do with wealth or prestige.

Even so, I believed that everybody on that splendid ship had to be rich, and I had a moment of thankfulness that we were simple farm people. Otherwise, we might have been on the ill-fated Titanic. My parents and brothers and sisters and the new baby and Grandpa and Grandma, might be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. I thought then it was better to be poor than rich, to be ordinary rather than outstanding, to be anything other than placing oneself in danger of death. I think Grandpa - the gold seeker, the gadfly - would have liked being a passenger on that ship. That part of my heritage was later to develop.

In 1959, I sailed on the Queen Mary to Europe. Somebody in "Tourist," whose cabin adjoined my own, told me, "Mrs. Astor is on top deck, in First Class." Here I had at last cast my lot with the wealthy, to live or drown. I had taken a stand with people of renown, not for any pretentious reason, but because I was an American, and all Americans are free to tread the same paths.

I knew then - at that moment on the Queen Mary - that Americans feel constrained to set aside a day for Thanksgiving. We had all shared in the building, and the keeping of our country. We had a kindred heritage. It didn't matter whether one ate turkey or wild squirrel, homemade peanut butter or cranberry sauce. It was all "sent down" from God, the bountiful Provider, as our Puritan fathers first taught us.