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RICH: Thanksgiving dinner always good for characters, stories

Ronda Rich

Ronda Rich

Thanksgiving is a time to come together and celebrate a family's beloved characters, the ones who give us many stories to declare and laughter to share.

For any storyteller, it is an occasion not to be missed.

A friend in Los Angeles and I were having a conversation about our families, traditions and get-togethers.

To appreciate this story, know that his family is one of the most accomplished in Hollywood. Collectively, they have played significant roles in creating some of the most memorable, most honored shows in television history.

"Do y'all get together for big family dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas?" I asked, imagining they did, thinking they must surely live like a perfect television family.

He burst forth in laughter, long and loud. The mirth continued so long that, finally, I interrupted it. "Why is that so funny?"

"We never get together for family dinners. Never. I can't remember ever having a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner together."

I was astounded. I always knew Hollywood folks were different but I didn't realize they were that different. "You're kiddin' me, right?"

"Nope."

"Wow, what a shame," I replied in disbelief. "You're missing out on an awful good opportunity to get some great material. Holidays are a smorgasbord of stories and plots just waiting to be written."

Personally, as a writer, I count on these family get-togethers for material. I particularly need them since Mama died and took some of my best story stuff with her. Truth be told, it's been a lot tougher without the encyclopedia of stories she used to regularly contribute.

As a result, I am now extremely grateful to sit at the table of characters and break bread among a host of loving, colorful folks who provide endless stories, wisdom and witticisms. Food feeds my body but their personalities feed my soul.

In the South, colorful families are the norm and the most dramatically different members are proudly hailed as characters. We cherish the holidays when we can fully express and practice our entertaining ways as a celebration of our heritage. Any self-respecting Southerner dedicated to preserving our way of life knows that (we also know that alcoholic is a fancy name for a drunk and any man who refuses to feed his family by applying himself to physical labor is worthless). If we in the South become fully functional families, then we will be divesting ourselves of what makes up truly unique among Americans.

We can't have that.

So, again this year, proudly unique and happily content with it all, we'll gather. We'll rejoice in the eccentricities that are ours individually and the bloodline that bonds us in commonality and be thankful for it all.

One seat, though, will be empty.

Jack Pierce, a dedicated man of God, was legendary for his fervor of prayer so it was he that often thanked the good Lord for the bounty of food and blessings when we gathered for Thanksgiving. When he bowed his head, it was clear that he had stretched his humble hand up to clasp the almighty hand of God.

Once, as a young preacher, he had attended worship with a black congregation. At the close of the service, he was asked to pray so he dropped to his knees and prayed as only he could. When the service ended, an old man approached him and said, "Preacher, you shore is fixed up to pray."

Yes, he was.

Three months after his death, we are still heartbroken but we will lift a glass of sweet tea and toast Jack as well as all the other characters who we have loved mightily, who are now gone from the table of our Thanksgiving fellowship (four in 18 months).

Meanwhile, there are a lot of babies in our family. Hopefully, a few of them will grow up to be real characters. We need to replace the good ones we've lost.