(Editor’s Note: This is the second part to Tom Lawrence’s “Thanksgiving 1951” short story. The first part was posted Wednesday November, 27th, and can be found in our November 2013 archives)
There was also a dish of oyster dressing, ala my grandmother’s recipe. I knew better than to try even a spoonful, as my mother hated her mother-in-law, and would take it as a direct insult and display of dis-loyalty if anyone but Dad ate it. We had the usual southern desserts, pecan and sweet potato pie, lemon pound cake and ginger bread, hot from the oven.
According to the stop-watch in my mother’s head, the meal lasted exactly 21 minutes before Dad and I moved into the living room and turned on the TV. She would spend the better part of the entire Thanksgiving weekend comparing our 21 minute gobble-down with the 12 hours she spent cooking and serving it. We offered to help with the cleanup if she could wait until the ball game was over, but the offer was met with a disgusted snort and the cold shoulder.
Watching a ball game on television in the Mississippi Delta in 1951 required a great deal of technology, most of which was poorly conceived and hastily executed. It also required the physical dexterity of the Bolshoi Ballet. Let me put it all in its proper prospective and explain how we came to own a 12” Admiral console housed in a cabinet the size of a Volkswagen.
The problem stemmed from the fact that there were no TV stations anywhere near Cleveland. There were two in Memphis, one in Little Rock and two in Jackson, all well over a hundred miles away. This necessitated the installation of a large metal tower with a revolving antenna mounted about forty feet in the air. The system came with a small control box that allowed you to aim the antenna in the general direction of the TV station.
On this particular afternoon, the game was being carried on WWL-TV in New Orleans and KMOX-TV in St. Louis. The mid-south didn’t have a pro football team. This was college football country and most folks felt the same way about pro football as they did Roller Derby and rasslin’. All three, along with hockey and curling were Yankee sports and had no place below the Mason-Dixon Line. Dad and a bunch of his golf and gin buddies liked to bet on sports, and thus the interest in the Packers and Lions. Nothing personal, just business, but it got us a TV.
We had experimented with picking up the New Orleans and St. Louis stations, and if you somehow managed to aim the antenna just right, and assuming the atmospheric conditions were favorable, you could occasionally receive a picture that was viewable. It was like watching a game in a blizzard, but you could keep up with the score, if nothing else. The score was the only thing Dad cared about, so this worked for him.
We began futzing with the tube just after dinner, and by kickoff, we had the semblance of a picture, and the sound came and went with the cosmic situation. The set came with rabbit ear antenna, just in case you actually lived near a station. Dad determined that if I would stand by the set and hold onto the rabbit ears, it made a big difference in reception. This made it awkward for me to actually see the picture, but if I bent over and leaned just right, I could see a little, mostly snow, but still a little.
I suggested that Stevie would actually be better for this task, and Dad agreed. He called Stevie and gave him general instructions, which were quickly overruled from the kitchen. I was at my post when the game began, and it was actually a pretty good game.
Early in the first quarter, Doak Walker, the former SMU All Amrican and Hiesman Trophy winner, kicked a 20 yard field goal, and the Lions took the lead. The Packer’s quickly answered with a 15 yard pass from Tobin Rote, the former Rice quarterback. The Lion’s Bobby Layne threw a 17 yard TD and the Packer’s Rote scored from the one, just before the end of the quarter. The Packer’s led 14-10.
Rote hit Dom Mosselle for a 48 yard TD at the start of the second quarter, and it was the Lion’s game from then on. It was 28-21 at halftime, and 52 -35 final, and Dad was a happy camper. He had the Lions -8. I had a serious crick in my back.
After the game we offered to help with the rest of the dishes, but our offer was met with a cold stare. My mother did ask me to take out the trash and garbage, which I did as cheerfully as possible. Dad decided to go play a little gin rummy at the club, and Stevie had long ago gone back to Tim’s house. Mother planned on a nap, and I decided to go see if I could kill a few doves.
Dove shooting had always been a challenge for me, even at the first of the season when the birds were young and dumb. By late in the season, most of the young dumb ones had been shot, and those that remained were wary and strong. This, coupled with winter winds and lack of cover, made it much tougher shooting. They were hard to hit, but offered a real challenge and a lot of fun. I gathered up my gear and called Nappy.
I figured we had about an hour or so of daylight left, and I knew exactly where I wanted to go. There was a sewage treatment plant on the same edge of town as Hickory Woods. There was a large pond near the plant, and a strip of woods about a hundred yards to the south. The field between the woods and the pond had been planted in corn and recently harvested. A gravel road led to the woods from the blacktop.
This made for perfect dove shooting. The doves had everything they needed in one spot: food, water, gravel for their craws, and a place to roost. I decided to take cover in a small ditch, which would put my back to the pond and let me face the cornfield. I didn’t want to shoot a bird and have him fall into the pond, and besides, I couldn’t hit a turkey coming in from behind me and going away.
Nappy and I settled down in the ditch, and waited until just before sundown when the action should get started. I wish I could say that Nappy came along to retrieve my birds, but the truth was that he was there for the company. He didn’t know retrieving from peanut butter. We waited patiently until the first flock of doves came swooping into the cornfield. They came from the south into a strong north wind, and were bobbing and weaving in every direction.
I was shooting a single shot, which meant that every shot needed to count. I was shooting high base 6’s, and could reach out for some fairly long shots. I managed to maintain my one out of three dove shooting average, and killed eight birds with a box of shells. By the time I ran out of shells, the sun had set and the birds had gone to roost.
When we got home, it was full dark and I fed Nappy his dinner and took a shower. I retired to my room and lay on my bed reading several editions of EC Comic’s Frontline Combat and Two Fisted Tales. I was just dozing off with the Les Paul and Mary Ford singing How High the Moon, when the thought crossed my mind, this may be my best Thanksgiving ever, and sure enough it has been..