How a Family Tradition Came to Be…
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Every year, for as long as I can remember, the Walvoord family has gathered together to share food and give thanks. My branch of the Walvoord Family truly enjoys each other and everyone looks forward to getting together each year.
My Aunt Mary, Mary Elizabeth Walvoord Hale Dzuik (1928-2009), is the one who started a family custom that would eventually reach mammoth proportions.
Mary thought it was important to get the family together often. In fact, she built her house in Hereford, Texas specifically so it would have enough room for family gatherings. It was felt that Christmas should be spent with individual family groups, but Thanksgiving was a holiday that the whole Walvoord Family could gather for.Aunt Mary had these family get-togethers for many years as the family grew and grew. Soon hosting Thanksgiving became quite a chore, so Mary’s younger brother David and sister-in-law Peggy (my parents), began to host Thanksgiving every-other-year. They had bought a new and bigger house in Amarillo, Texas in 1969 and were now able to handle the growing family reunions. In one instance, I remember my parents, who had a game room, put the ping-pong table top on top of the pool table, draped a tablecloth over that and put chairs around converting it to a large dining table. Of course myself and the rest of my younger cousins were regulated to the children’s tables (usually several card tables) sprinkled in other rooms of the house.
In those early days, Thanksgiving would alternate between my parent’s house and my Aunt Mary’s house in Hereford, Texas.
The Sears Wish Book
After the noon Thanksgiving meal, everyone would sit around the dining room table with the Sears Christmas “Wish Book” Catalog and make up their Christmas Lists of items they wanted costing less than $5.00.
After the lists, an exciting time was had by drawing names of all family members (including those not present). It was always a secret who had drawn your name much like the “Secret Santa” games that people play today, although we didn’t call it that. The name one drew was who they got to buy a gift for for that Christmas. If you drew someone from your own family, that slip of paper was put back in and you would re-draw.
There was always a limit to how much you could spend. It was usually no more than five dollars but then with inflation, the limit, I think, was raised to $10.00. When it became harder to buy anything meaningful with ten dollars, the tradition of drawing names each Thanksgiving was abandoned.
Games and Dallas Cowboys Football
In those early days, after the noon meal at Aunt Mary’s, the adults would play Canasta and the kids would play outside with Lawn Darts. Many of the guys would play tennis on a nearby tennis court. I also remember playing the game Clue for the first time.
In later years, the post noon meal activities include a walk to a park for kids to play, or a game of ping pong or throwing the football around. When in the Dallas area, Aunt Nan would open up her shop (The Vintage House) for a shopping “field trip” that most of the ladies would enjoy and get a little early Christmas shopping in.
At kickoff time, nearly everyone would sit in front of the TV to watch the Dallas Cowboys play. My grandfather, Randall Henry Walvoord (1904-1978), was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and my older Aunts and Uncles were born in Racine, Wisconsin. You would think that they would be Green Bay Packers fans, but their loyalties have always been for the Dallas Cowboys. My grandfather moved the family from Racine down to Amarillo, Texas in 1945 and since The Dallas Cowboys started up in 1960, this branch of Walvoords has followed them from the beginning.
As the family grew larger and larger, the hard work of Thanksgiving preparations was spread around between between more of my aunts and uncles. Hosting of Thanksgiving began to rotate between my Aunt Mary’s in Hereford, Texas, David and Peggy Walvoord’s in Amarillo, Texas, Johnny and Nan Walvoord’s in Carrollton, Texas and then Gary and Bonnie Walvoord’s in Amarillo (then later to Oklahoma City after they moved there). In this way, no one had to host more than once every four-years.
Grafting in Another Branch of the Family Tree
One Thanksgiving, in Carrollton, Texas, when it was Uncle Johnny and Aunt Nan family’s turn to host, they thought to invite John F. Walvoord’s family who lived in Dallas. John F. Walvoord was my great-uncle and the younger brother of my grandfather Randall H. Walvoord (who had died in 1978). My Great-uncle John and great-aunt Geraldine and their children and grandchildren added another six to ten to the Walvoord numbers each year. In hindsight, we all wondered why no one had never thought to invite them before, because they added so much to the family.
As Thanksgiving rotated between Hereford, Amarillo, Carrollton, and Oklahoma City, some years just had bigger turnouts than others. More of the Walvoord family lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so the Carrollton year had more people show up than the Hereford year or even the Amarillo year. With the combination of everyone enjoying the bigger turnouts and convenience in the Dallas area, and the fact that Aunt Mary my my parents were getting older and hosting Thanksgiving was more difficult for them, the Panhandle locations were eventually dropped and then later so was Oklahoma City.
The Next Generation
Eventually the Walvoord Thanksgiving settled into a Dallas only rotation and the annual burden of hosting fell on my Aunt Nan’s family in Carrollton.
To give her a break, one year my cousin Cindy (Hale) Horton (Aunt Mary’s youngest daughter), hosted at her home in Austin, Texas.
Another year, John Edward Walvoord (son of John F. Walvoord) hosted at his house in Dallas.
Johnny and Nan’s daughter Jeanan (Walvoord) Hamilton started hosting at her house in Flower Mound, Texas alternating each year with her mom. Jeanan loves hosting so much, she became content to host every year and in true Walvoord fashion wants to set a record in attendance each year. The record attendance (I believe) is 62, but generally averages around 50 or so each year.
In 2009, my cousin Kristi (Dillon) Spess began hosting every-other-year in Austin, Texas and did so this past 2013.
Group Photo, Prayer, and Doxology
Although photos of various family groups have been taken nearly every year, many years, a photo of the entire family together was simply forgotten. By the time somebody thought of it, some of the family had already left.
I believe it was my cousin Jeanan, who one year, organized an approach to make a group photo of everyone. Before the noon prayer and food, everyone gathered outside to get a group photo. The photo is to be taken at 12:00 noon sharp. If you’re not there, you miss being in the picture. Jeanan has been known to “Photo Shop” a couple of lollygaggers into the photo. After about “500 photos” from “30 different cameras” are taken, then generally, the eldest Walvoord male present, would say the blessing.
Many Walvoord descendants from this branch are very musically gifted and some even have degrees in Music (I’m not one of them). One year, my cousin Lynn (Aunt Mary’s oldest daughter) spontaneously began singing the Doxology after the prayer and everyone joined in. It is now a tradition every year.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Feeding a family this big, requires a lot of food. Some of the food the Walvoords share each year are, of course, turkey. Some years we’ve had four turkeys: two roasted turkeys, one smoked turkey and one deep-fried turkey. Usually someone provides a large ham.
Some of the classic Walvoord dishes enjoyed are Aunt Nan’s corn bread dressing of which she makes massive quantities taking several days to make. I don’t recall ever having “stuffing” at Thanksgiving which is a more northern tradition. Another favorite is Aunt Nan’s corn bread casserole. Everyone laps ups up Aunt Nan’s pink salad. Aunt Mary always made a broccoli-rice casserole that I loved. Aunt Betty is known for her fudge. Mrs. Hale (Granny Hale was Aunt Mary’s mother-in-law) made the most delicious variety of home-made pickles in her relish tray. Aunt Mary also made delicious pumpkin pies from a recipe that was handed down from her Uncle Earl Korn’s wife Laurine. Earl was the older brother of my grandmother Elizabeth (Korn) Walvoord.
Someone would always bring Pecan Pie. My grandmother who was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin would pronounce it “Pee-can Pie” and us Southern Walvoords would “try” to correct her to the proper pronunciation of “Pi-khan Pie.” My grandpa would call pickles: “cucumbers” and cucumbers: “pickles.” I think he did that just to tease me.
Continuing the Spirit of Aunt Mary’s Thanksgiving
July 31, 2009, Mary Elizabeth (Walvoord) Hale Dzuik went to be with the Lord. That year, Thanksgiving was held in Austin, Texas. It was the first Thanksgiving without the one who built this family tradition.
My uncle and aunt, Randy and Mary (Froehlich) Walvoord planned on coming to Austin that year for Thanksgiving, but were unable to attend. This Mary was sick and dying of cancer and just couldn’t make the trip even though she wanted to.
My cousins Lynn and Cindy who seem to always think of others before themselves, after losing their own mother several months earlier, packed up leftover turkey, dressing and all the fixings and flew from Austin to Florida so Randy and Mary wouldn’t miss out on Thanksgiving.
I think Aunt Mary would be proud of that.
What are your memories of Thanksgiving?
Share your family’s memories and traditions of Thanksgiving in comments below.