When I was a kid, and I mean from the age I can remember(3-ish) until early teens, we always celebrated Thanksgiving at Tyler State Park. I'm not sure when exactly it started, but I have heard how it came about.
My mothers parents had been camping for years. First in tents, then pop-up tent trailers and then in full blown RV trailers. When my parents got married, mom and dad got a pop-up tent trailer to go with them. My dads parents thought they were crazy at first, but soon joined in and would camp sometimes together, sometimes alone. My earliest birthday memory is of I think my 3rd, celebrated in Colorado camping beside a river in a National Forest camp ground.
Somewhere about the mid to late 70's, my grandparents and parents started camping over Thanksgiving weekend. Of course they cooked a turkey while there, but Granddad cooked it in the ground.
He would arrive at the park several days before Thanksgiving, and dig a big hole, about 3'x3'x3'. That's where the camp fire would be. For days he would burn the fire, until he had a full bed of coals. Then, he would dig out the coals and put in the turkey. The turkey was in 2 foil baking pans wired together, and wrapped like a mummy in heavy foil. The whole thing was put in the hole and covered with the coals. After several hours, the turkey was dug out and opened.
I'll never forget how cool it was to watch. The turkey went in the pans just as white any other raw turkey. And it came out the same way....until the air hit it, and you could watch it turn brown. The pans held in the juices and kept out the air. The meat was just about falling off the bones.
Every year this happened. In fact, several couples from around the area would start camping there over Thanksgiving and take part. Everyone would bring a covered dish. Everyone became friends and camped together several times a year. Thanksgiving together at Tyler became a tradition for lots of folks. I remember at least once we had about 40 people camping and eating together. The Tyler paper even came out and did a story on the group once.
Sadly, the group is mostly gone. Both of my grandads have passed away, as well as several of the older friends from those days. I haven't seen any of them in about 20 years. I remember sitting and listening to them tell stories around the camp fire at night. So much history....
I heard bits and pieces about my Grandad serving with the Army Corp of Engineers during the war in both Europe and the Pacific. About flying off a mountain in Germany, and having a Boa constrictor fall on the hood of his bulldozer on Okinawa. He gave the snake the dozer by the way. I learned a lot about what it takes to be an adult from those folks. I miss them, and the times.
What made me post this winding thought down memory lane is that right now I am taking a break from getting ready to go camping with my parents and my sons for Thanksgiving. They won't let us dig a big hole anymore in the parks, so the turkey will be pre-cooked. I'll be smoking it tomorrow. But the boys will get a little idea what it was like for me. Care free days, good food, friends and good times. We'll be hiking, fishing, and playing in the camp fire and telling stories.
This Thanksgiving, I'll be giving thanks for the wonderful family I have, great kids, a wonderful wife, a nice home and our health. But I'll also be giving thanks for all those Thanksgivings that came before. Thanks for people from Cumby, and Quitman, Van, and many other places who taught me about adults, respect, and friendship. In part because of what was then, I am who I am now.
Have a wonderful, safe and happy holiday folks. I'll be back next week.