Thanksgiving on Empire Prairie

Growing up in Northwest Missouri,
Every Thanksgiving, we drove
Six miles out of town to Empire Prairie
To the little white Presbyterian Church
That stood where the road curved north.

Women of the church would cook,
Prepare food for days in warm basement kitchen,
Menu always the same:  turkey, mashed potatoes,
Gravy, choice of vegetables, rolls, deserts.

Tables were set up tightly,
Metal folding chairs in place.
Silverware in a basket by white plates.
People bought tickets, came for miles—
Sixty or seventy at a setting I suppose.
Three settings from noon to three.

There was not much sense of intimacy.
I often ate next to someone I did not know.
But there was gathered community,
Lasting but an hour—still there was power
Bestowed by prayer upon the people there.
And the richness of the land and food.

For some strange reason, I remember
Steepness of the concrete stairs
Leading down to the large room underground….
Warm smells from cooking.
Men gathered outside to smoke
After the meal, standing in bright sun,
Speaking always of the harvesting of crops.

There are no church dinners now.
Almost thirty years ago, the building burned—
I’m pretty sure it was the furnace,
Something electrical went wrong.
By the time someone drove by
On cold winter’s night, it was too late,
Flames rising high toward heaven’s gate.
Now the nearby headstones
Stand in silent testimony to past times,
Buried memories resurrected yet again.

The years come on so fast; they pass
Along with those who placed their faith,
Gathered in prayer every November.
The little boys and girls now all grown old,
Gray hair upon their heads,
Preparing to sleep in their beds,
Still saying their prayers of blessing.

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2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving on Empire Prairie

  1. A simpler time of giving thanks. Now it is eat and turn into shoppers rushing to bury the next time of prayerful peace into a noisy consumerist mess.

  2. Having grown up on Empire Prairie where this poem pays tribute, I smiled as I recalled the days of Thanksgiving diner in church basements and giving thanks for a bountiful harvest — it was our lifeblood. Fred, thank you for capturing the simplicity of life in times gone past.

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