Dr. Cliftion W. Potter Jr., LC History Professor~

By the time you read this column, Thanksgiving Day will be just one week in the future.  This long-awaited holiday is like the last long descent on a roller coaster—after “turkey day,” it is all downhill to exams.

This will be the ninth year we have had an entire week’s vacation.  I cannot help but wonder why it took the faculty a quarter of a century to approve a proposal that made sense from the moment it was first introduced.  In any case, it is now part of the official schedule, so enjoy every minute of it. By the way, I am sick of seeing ads featuring pious Pilgrims. The first Thanksgiving was not held at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, but in 1619 in Virginia just a few miles below the modern city of Richmond.  I guess the national myth makers considered the settlers at Jamestown to be “party animals,” thus we are stuck with Prudence and Ichabod for the foreseeable future.

Illustration by Genevieve Griffin

Sixty years ago the Thanksgiving vacation consisted only of Thursday and Friday. Classes were held on Wednesday, and double cuts were given to those who dared to go home early.  Air travel was expensive, and trains were booked months in advance, so students who did not live within a few hours drive of campus simply did not go home; most of them were invited to spend the holiday with friends or faculty members.  Mrs. Cloyd, the college dietician, and her staff served a traditional Thanksgiving feast on Tuesday evening, and 24 hours later the campus was deserted.

Two of my classmates were invited to share Thanksgiving dinner with one of their professors whose daughter was a friend of theirs. The brisk walk from campus on Tuesday evening was short, but just enough to whet their appetites.  As they entered the front door they were greeted by the smell of roast turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie—in short, all of the wonderful perfumes that invoked memories and just a touch of homesickness. With anticipation they took their places at the dining room table—then the doorbell rang, and the unbelievable happened.  Several strangers carefully collected the holiday meal and carried it out to their cars.  Their hostess had donated their dinner to the poor. Her guests were served chili and cheese crackers. It was a noble gesture, but if they had only known they could have politely declined the invitation. When they finally returned to campus, and their plight was made known, Mrs. Cloyd fixed them hot turkey sandwiches—that was all that was left from dinner.

In 1960, it snowed on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and only the students who lived in town were able to have dinner at home.  It started very early in the morning, and by  noon the roads were covered.  The airport was closed, the trains were packed and the buses stopped running before dark. Contrary to custom, the dorms remained opened. Thanksgiving Day was cold and clear, but the streets and roads were still impassable.  A major storm had not been predicted for Central Virginia, only flurries.  Once again, Mrs. Cloyd worked a miracle as she emptied her pantry and served a banquet which alumni who were there still remember.  By Friday, some students who lived near Lynchburg were able to go home, but most of us remained on campus.  As you enjoy the company of friends and family this holiday season, be thankful that you have a whole week to celebrate, and not just two days. By the way, have you ever had chili made with turkey?

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