Some might think we non believers are a shallow, misguided, ungrateful lot. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While we may not practice a ritualized, much commercialized form of giving thanks to a deity, we too can deeply appreciate, even be humbled by, what we have.
My family would certainly not have been considered upper crust. We did not have an eight foot, solid mahogany dining table on which we placed Royal Doulton fine bone china. Quite the contrary.
I use to take long walks as a young man. Often, I would go into an old building about a mile from the house, just to look around again. It had been vacant for years and seemed to belong to no one.
It was made mostly of poured concrete. there were small rooms, very large rooms, and in between. All empty, they seemed to have served no purpose at all. In a way, it was sort of spooky. So still, so quiet, so eerily a physical thing from yesteryear surrounding you in the present day.
On one of my last visits to this somewhat macabre building, I noticed something I had seen many times before. This time, I was compelled to take a longer look, to decipher what was before me.
Against a concrete wall, a ramp had been poured of concrete. It started from the concrete floor, and it climbed the wall to a height of about seven feet.
There was very heavy railing, much like a hand rail but so heavy. At the top, the ramp ended in a seven or eight foot square platform partially enclosed by the railing. Here the railing had been bent very much out of shape. I wondered what would have had enough weight to cause bending of such a heavy gauge iron. What am I to make of this? A concrete ramp going up a concrete wall leading to a concrete platform that goes to nowhere? But, on the wall side of the platform an opening had been made and a door had been placed there. A very strange looking door, to be sure, with pulleys at top with remnants of strong rope hanging from them
I had to know the meaning of this bizarrely constructed building and what went on when live people congregated here. I went to the bottom of the ramp and slowly ascended to the platform. I looked down and around me and saw nothing but ghostly, dingy concrete walls. There was nothing except me, the platform floor, the railing, and to my left, that huge, strange door.
The door had a slight opening in it. Though very heavy, I was able to slide it open further, much like a pocket door, til I had enough room to squeeze my slender body through. At first, I saw only sky. Then I realized it was as if I was on the second floor of the building. But why? Why a door in a second story wall leading to nowhere except the outside?
As I looked downward, I saw another ramp. It was much wider, many times longer, made of wood and leading to the very door where I was standing. It's beginning was a hundred feet away, right in the middle of what looked as if it use to be a small corral.
It was then that the memories began flooding my brain. I had been here before as a young child, maybe five or six. I had never been on the platform before, but as a tiny tot firmly grasping the hand of my father or an older brother; from the concrete floor, I witnessed the meaning of the concrete ramp with its strong railing, the platform atop the ramp and the door that could be slid open and closed by the pulling of ropes.
I watched in horror as a big man wielding a very large sledge hammer stood by the door with one hand on the rope. There was much clamoring behind the door as if something huge was trying to break through.
The man gave a quick pull on the rope and the door opened part way. A monstrous 2,000 pound bull forced the door open wider and made its way squarely on the platform. The animal was a bit dazed. Where was ground? Where was he to go? In this instant of bewilderment, he didn't notice the man standing behind him, letting go of the rope and quickly closing the door behind him.
It was all over for the angry and confused bull. The man behind him lifted the oversized sledge hammer, and with one swift and mighty blow, brought the hammerhead down to meet the very center of the bull's head.
Not a sound, just a stream of blood from the bull's nostrils as it slowly slumped over the railing, bending it even further. The animal had been sacrificed for the Human diet. Having repeated this act several times a day, every day, I seriously doubt the 'Hammer Man' ever said 'Thank you'.
So, as it turns out, this strange, abandoned building was once a slaughter house. We didn't know it by that name. In our day it was called an 'abattoir'.
I have more memories of the outside of this place than the inside. There, were the largest hog pens I had ever seen. Hogs of every color and size and very pink little piglets. I suppose if you worked there, you would eventually become accustomed to the scent of swine dung hanging heavily in the air. It almost made me sick. The depth of the dung was such that it was as if the hogs were in a shallow lake of their own making. If anyone had a reason to venture into one of these pens, they surely would don knee or hip boots first.
My father and older brothers and other men living in my village occasionally made treks to the middle of these pens to retrieve objects of which they were in need. What could possibly be in a sea of hog shit (as it was known then, but I wasn't allowed to say the word) that would be needed by we and our neighbors?
Well, our small town boasted three of the nicest hotels in the Carolinas. The food was enjoyed not only by the guests but non guests, as well. Their dining rooms were usually full and their kitchens always bustling with much activity. In fact, so much activity that things often did not go as they should have.
It came to the point, at times, cooks and dishwashers were so behind, things were so hectic, so many diners waiting for food; It was easier to dump dirty plates into the slop bins along with the slop that it was to take time to wash the plates. The hotels always kept plenty of new ones, anyway.
These hotel kitchens and dining rooms created a lot of slop, a lot which had to be disposed of every day. Apparently the hotel owners and the abattoir owners had struck a deal of sorts. On a daily basis, truckloads of slop from the hotels made their way to the abattoir. And within this slop was many plates, cups and saucers, soup bowls, tea urns, sugar bowls; all you would need to set a table, flat ware forever!
Dad and brothers went fishing in the soupy hog pens, bringing home all the dinnerware we ever had. Mama would wash the plates and such at the outside spigot before bringing them into the house. There, she would boil the plates in water to which she had added Clorox. After that, a regular washing and they were ready for our cupboards.
Beans and taters were the main fare at my home. How Mama managed to scrape together enough money for turkey and dressing and all the trimmings for eleven or twelve, I'll never know. But she did, faithfully, for many years.
And for many years those delicious meals were eaten from, not Royal Doulton bone china, but plates that had been fished from a hog pen.
So, how do you set a Thanksgiving table?.......Paper plates, discarded hotel dishes, tableware and porcelain by Paragon and Sèvres?
It doesn't matter, The food will taste the same. Serve the food with love, as were the meals I ate from hotel discards. The love made the meal what it was, not what it was served from or eaten from or whether the forks were laid on the correct side.
Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all
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'main fare', Doug. Still, a very interesting account.
Sad for the animals, but beautifully written. Thanks for sharing! Good to see you here again!
Thanks....and check your message box.
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