Thanksgiving and the Real Black Friday

Guest blog post by Dan Gogerty, communications editor for CAST

The Farm Bureau posted their annual report regarding the cost of the typical Thanksgiving Day meal, and at approximately $5 per person, it seems a bargain. If you compare the menu items to what you’d get for $5 at most fast food places, you’d about have to say, “I’m lovin’ it.”

I looked up the prices for 1961. I was eleven years old then, sitting at a long, crowded table in Granny Faye’s house. She wasn’t much for hosting events, but even after my grandpa died, she kept up the Thanksgiving tradition. Apparently back then she could buy turkey at 35 cents a pound, potatoes at 8 cents a pound, and two cans of pumpkin for 29 cents.

Granny’s two sons both farmed within a half mile of the home place. Farms were closer together then, and these were filled with kids—fourteen between the two families. Most of us were boys growing up under the influence of Moe, Larry, and Curly, but we managed to sit quietly during the prayer, and we appreciated the accordion-paper turkeys and pumpkins that made up the table décor. No one wrote texts or tweets as we shaped our mashed potatoes into lake beds for the gravy. No noon football games on the black and white TV, but cousin Terry might have a beat up pigskin on his lap. We were itching to get outside to play ball—what kid really likes cranberry sauce anyway? A promise of pumpkin pie is the only thing that kept us from bolting.

I have little recall of the meal chatter, but Granny might inform us that turkeys were not always the guest of honor at Thanksgiving. “Back then,” she’d say, “we used to butcher and dress barnyard chickens for the feast. Not much fun steaming and plucking feathers on a chilly morning.” We kids had been present at poultry harvest times, so a cousin might start describing the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off ritual until he was shushed. Grossing each other out was a national pastime for us boys at that age, but the Thanksgiving table was not prime territory for it.

As the autumn sun shone through the large south windows, Dad might point out, “Even though today is perfect for football, we’ve seen Thanksgivings when the ground was covered with snow. When I was about your age, the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard surprised us all. Farmers were caught out in the cornfields, hunters were nearly frozen to death in duck blinds, and chickens were stuck solid to their roosts. No weather forecasts to warn us back then.”

Even at that age, I’d seen a Thanksgiving or two when the creek banks were lined with thin ice, and the morning sun lit up frost that coated woven wire fences and corn stalks left in the field after the harvest. But today had the brilliant light of a slanting autumn sun, and as soon as we hit the yard, it was all pass, run, argue, punt, fumble, and argue some more as we conveniently ignored the fact that someone was cleaning up after the big event. Back then, adults were like benevolent extraterrestrials who usually stayed in their own universe—until chore time.

“The cow needs milkin’,” some galactic overlord would announce. “And the steers in the lot across the road need five buckets of grain and eight bales of hay.” No holiday shopping excuses to save us. The advertizing Madmen of the 60s hadn’t come up with Black Friday Frenzy, which is now morphing into Thanksgiving Day Dilemma. We were bright enough kids, but the word “shopping” was not in our vocabulary, and  merchants back then didn’t even think of hoisting Christmas on us until Thanksgiving was over.

The day was for celebrating family, and the harvest, and kids playing outside in the sunshine or the snow. And the evening was for eating the meal that I liked best—the leftovers. Dark turkey meat, warmed-up dressing with gravy on it, Mom’s homemade bread, a slice of pumpkin pie—living was easy. Until the morning after Thanksgiving.

We’re trudging up the lane toward the yellow school bus that stops in a cloud of gravel dust and dread. In a tryptophan stupor and laden with books and gym clothes, I climb aboard the not-so-magic bus and plop down in a cold seat next to a lanky high school kid with a comb in his pocket and a sneer on his face. Now that’s what I call the real Black Friday.

by dan gogerty (turkey pic from; school bus pic from