A Time For Tradition
Six Columbians share their Thanksgiving stories.
Norm & Virginia Stewart
(page 1 of 3)
Thanksgiving — that most American of holidays — is a day for tradition and reflection on all our blessings. We asked six Columbians — longtime residents and transplants from other countries — to share their holiday customs and reflect on the reasons they have to be thankful. (We’re thankful for their stories.)
Former University of Missouri basketball coach
Hometown: Shelbyville, Missouri
My first head-coaching job at the University of Northern Iowa is the Thanksgiving that sticks out most prominently. It was not just with our family; we had ballplayers and staff. My wife, Virginia, and I agreed that the team would come to our house. She worked and worked, and prepared this beautiful dinner like we were going to entertain not just a ball club or a basketball team, but royalty. That’s the way she entertains.
There would have been 12 players and our family — so around 20 people. At that time, I was 26. She was 24 with three children. (We’ve been married 56 years; that’s hard work also.)
So they came and she had all the turkey, the trimmings the dressing — we always have baked oysters to go with the dressing — the mashed potatoes, the cranberries, all that. The team came in, they sat down, and in 10 minutes, probably, they consumed everything. And I’ll never forget this: Virginia said, “Oh, my word! Everything’s gone.” I said, “They loved it!” It was a wonderful success, but to her, all this work disappeared in 10 minutes. She almost cried. But that was our first Thanksgiving meal with a team, and that’s still kind of memorable.
Our family always included our ball club. There was always somebody there — somebody who played for me or worked with me during 40 years of basketball. If kids didn’t have a way to get home, then we always made sure there was a place for them at our house.
For 14 years, we’ve been free from sports. It’s all family now; we have three children and eight grandchildren and there’s in-laws, so sometimes it’s a gang — and it’s just fun.
If the numbers are great, then there will be two or three pies. Usually we’ll have pumpkin pie and whipped cream, maybe a little pecan. When we had small grandchildren, you make what they want and then you have four pies.
I am thankful for so many things. First of all, I’m thankful for an extended life and great family, people I’ve met by association through my marriage and through my contacts and through my position. I’ve seen poverty in India, Mexico and all different countries; I’ve been in the Oval Office. It’s all about people. So my blessing is that of a wonderful marriage, a wonderful family and a great blend of people. I’m just thankful for that.
Director of the Columbia Art League
Hometown: Preston, Lancashire, England
The first year I was in the United States — 2005 — was also my first Thanksgiving. I went to my husband’s family house — my future-in-laws’ house, really, because he wasn’t my husband that first year. There were seven of us altogether: Tom and me, his parents, his sister, her future husband and his grandmother.
Because we’re a small family, and everybody lives in Columbia, we see each other all year. We don’t have the kind of Thanksgiving where people descend upon Columbia once a year from far away and that’s our only chance for a family gathering. So, for me, it’s just like going over to my in-laws’ house for a regular family get-together, rather than being a momentous once-a-year dinner. It doesn’t feel hugely significant — more of a chance to hang out, eat good food, watch the football and drink wine.
Thanksgiving doesn’t really have much significance for me as a holiday. When you don’t grow up with a tradition, it’s something you observe almost as a bystander rather than something you inherently feel. But it’s a nice day, and I love eating good food.
We all sit around a big table. My mother-in-law creates beautiful table decorations, usually with a centerpiece of autumnal colors. There’s one really cute piece of tableware that she gets out every year: a gravy boat in the shape of a turkey. Her mother made it; it’s the traditional item that always gets remarked upon.
I love turkey. In England, you eat turkey at Christmas; but we generally don’t eat turkey for our family Christmas meal. So Thanksgiving is when I get my turkey fix.
I’m thankful for my fabulous family that has adopted me so completely and given me a new home here in Columbia. And for my fabulous husband and how wonderful he is and how lucky I was to bump into him — it was so random that we met at all. I feel incredibly lucky every day — being healthy and living in a great city, being part of an awesome community, and running the Columbia Art League. It’s not in every country or community that you would be accepted so fully as an outsider, which makes Columbia special and a great city in which to live. I don’t ever see us ever leaving, Tom grew up here, and Columbia will always be home. For me, it’s amazing to have stumbled upon such a great community.
Joni O’Connor’s Cranberry Relish
Courtesy of Diana Moxon
1 small package cranberry or cherry Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup pineapple juice (from drained crushed pineapple; add water to make 1 cup)
1 cup ground raw cranberries
1 orange, peeled and cut into small segments
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup celery, finely chopped
½ cup English walnuts, chopped
Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water. Add sugar, lemon juice and pineapple juice, and stir until dissolved. Chill until partially set. Add remaining ingredients and chill until set.