Home--And Happy--For the Holidays


Photo by Regina Charboneau

To try a Liberty Hall Grasshopper, click here for the recipe.

When I began my five-part series on the preparation of Thanksgiving ahead of time, I mentioned that I have to be organized because of the large number of people for whom I cook. I typically have close to 140 guests, but this year was much easier as I only had 90. So, for the first time in a long while, I awoke on Thanksgiving morning with leisure time to spare, and so I turned on the NBC Today Show before stepping into the kitchen.

I was slightly amazed to see that the Today Show had a guest psychiatrist giving tips on how to deal with the stress that family causes during the holidays. She gave tips on how to set limits on the time the family spends together, carefully assemble a seating chart, and avoid hot topics. Much of what the doctor was sharing was common sense, but it was still a bit sad to think that of all days to limit time with relatives, it is the very day dedicated to the enjoyment of family togetherness.

This struck a chord with me because I was feeling a little down that so many of my family members could not make it to Thanksgiving this year. The only real stress my family causes me is worry for their well-being and happiness. I am not saying that everyone in my large family agrees on politics, religion, raising children, or any other hot topic, but we do know how to get along and continue to love each other no matter what our differences may be.

Now, there are three more generations that gather each year at Twin Oaks, my bed and breakfast in Natchez.

It is hard to say which generation gets the credit for my family's ability to accept one another. My family dates back eight generations in Natchez, Mississippi. I cannot claim to know the influences that earlier generations had on each beneath them, but I do know that my mother's generation is amazing. My aunts and uncles were in their teens and 20's during World War II, and many of them married during that time. My mother was the youngest of six girls and had three brothers.

I have heard the stories over and over about their suitors thinking my mother's family home, "Liberty Hall," was the USO hall because there were so many parties and dances. There are tales about Aunt Abbie, who was a Navy nurse when she fell in love with my Uncle Jim, a wounded Marine at Mare Island outside of San Francisco. Their love affair was like something right out of a black and white movie. My mother's cousin Joe Snyder was much like the tenth child at Liberty Hall as he was an only child (a rare event in our family). After he survived the battle of Midway on the USS Yorktown, he married and went on to have 11 children.


Photo by Regina Charboneau

My mother's generation was so fun-loving and full of life. I fondly remember the Thanksgiving we all learned to do the "Twist." Aunt MaeMae was the one to teach us the latest dances; we also give her credit for the "Blue Eye Shadow" and "Push-Up Bras." It was about the same time that the Electric Blender came back into vogue when Uncle Will became known for his Grasshoppers and Brandy Alexanders. The holiday "kissing contest" was probably born out of that tradition.

For well over 50 years, it was this generation--the Yowells, Officers, Sanguinettis, Arceneauxs, Arnolds, Trosclairs and Snyders--that gathered for Thanksgiving. Now, there are three more generations that gather each year at Twin Oaks, my bed and breakfast in Natchez.

I now know the reason that I take on cooking for everyone. It is because I want my children to learn the history and love of family that I have known and come to appreciate more each year of my life. Among the many holidays we celebrate, it is Thanksgiving that reminds me the most of stress-free love and laughter. As I do a head count for my Thanksgiving dinner each year, I count each individual as a blessing.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I think I will have a Grasshopper while I decorate my tree.