Mom grew up in Crothersville, Indiana. Dad’s family moved from eastern Kentucky to Austin, Indiana, just a few miles south of Crothersville, in the mid 1940s.
Dad was just a young, teenage boy. A few years later, Mom was working as a waitress and Dad was her customer. They met. They fell in love. They married.
The job market was better in Dayton, so Mom and Dad packed up and moved to the Gem City. They were young, in love and ready to raise their own family. So, a few years later, they bought a small house on Maple Street in Germantown. That is where our young family, parents and children, literally grew up together.
For as long as anyone can remember, Mamaw and Papaw Bridges lived in their little house on Vine Street in Crothersville. The old house has been gone for many years. The only things remaining are the front steps and some very, very special memories.
Grandma and Grandpa Riley lived in a small, typical Main Street home of the 1940s — a few rooms downstairs, a few unheated rooms upstairs and a small outhouse in the back yard.
No one, especially this young boy, wanted to venture down the short path to the outhouse in mid-winter. Besides there being no lights, I just knew that monsters were waiting for me in the depths of that old outhouse. To make life easier for everyone, we used chamber pots when we visited.
As a young boy, I don’t remember too much about Thanksgiving or Christmas in Germantown.
Annually, Mom and Dad would pile all four of us kids into the old car and drive us three hours to enjoy the holidays in their hometowns in Indiana.
That was our tradition. We would all pile into the back of the car with our pillows and blankets and make our comfy little nests for the trip.
Seatbelts didn’t exist in those days. We could stretch out on the rear seat or cuddle down onto the floor. We sometimes stuck my little brother up into the little space by the rear window.
There were no hand-held gaming devices. We played “count-the-cows.” Dad taught us every Hank Williams song ever recorded. We laughed. We sang. We enjoyed these holiday trips to Indiana.
As soon as we arrived, there were hugs and kisses from grandparents and extended family. We would unload the Thanksgiving food or Christmas presents we had brought with us. When our feet hit Indiana soil it was an official start to the holiday. It just got better as aunts, uncles and loads of cousins poured into the house.
At night we slept on couches and roll-away beds. Before we fell asleep, Papaw Bridges would stoke up the potbellied stove in the front room. We would always hear him in the cold, wee hours of the morning as he coaxed the fire back to life. As the warmth was restored, so was our sleep.
We would awaken hours later to the smell of breakfast and the soft sound of laughter coming from Grandma’s kitchen.
That was our family tradition for many years. We loved it, but it changed. Unfortunately, grandparents don’t live forever and with their passing … so do our traditions.
As I write this column, Debbie is researching recipes for turkey dressing. I’m committed to roasting the 20-pound bird. Josh is going to try making scalloped oysters. These are all things that Debbie’s Mom made for us as part of our annual Thanksgiving feast.
Sadly, Doris passed away suddenly this summer. Our traditions have changed. It’s sad. There are some things that should not change, but they do.
Thanksgiving without Doris and Vaughn will never seem right, but life does indeed go on. Our traditions have changed – not because we wanted them to, but because life changes around us. Life changes whether we are ready for it or not.
Since I was a little boy, our holiday traditions have changed a few times.
I’m sure we will face more changes as the years pass. These changes are rarely pleasant. It usually involves the loss of parents or grandparents. Those are things we don’t even like to think about, let alone endure, but we will endure. We will adapt.
My little brother will never get tucked into that little space below the rear window again. We’ll never sing Hank Williams songs for hours, but, as a family, we will always treasure those traditions. We’ll always treasure the holiday feasts we had on Doris and Vaughn’s farm, but now we will make new traditions.
Hopefully, our children and grandchildren will treasure the new traditions we are establishing for them.
I just hope the turkey is edible and that Josh’s scalloped oysters are half as good as Doris’.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.