Anthony Campbell

The Good Lord willing, this Thanksgiving will just be a “regular Thanksgiving” for the Campbells.

When you get a little age on you, as I have done now, you’ve experienced a lot of differing things over the holidays through the years. Thanksgiving certainly fits that description.

Perhaps the best Thanksgivings of our lives were the many years we went to Piney River, Virginia. For years and years, Thanksgiving was “our week” to be in the mountains of Virginia. My brother Mitch and I would hunt, fish and run wild. It was absolutely glorious.

My parents bought an old house up in the mountains and for a decade, it was “the” place to be on Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad hosted Thanksgiving dinners that family members still talk about. Complete strangers would show up with relatives of a relative to eat sometimes.

“Who was that tall boy?” someone asked one year.

“I don’t know,” someone else replied.

“I think he just got out of prison,” an aunt said, adding that he was so-and-so’s friend. I believe the headcount was 34 that Thanksgiving. We knew most of them, but not quite all it turned out.

There was my beloved Uncle Junior one Thanksgiving, a little tipsy, but doing his best to say grace. He thanked the Lord for my grandmother, calling her “the heart of the Campbell family.” I still embrace that term and quote it occasionally, but it’s my mom Sandra Campbell who is the heart of the Campbell family now.

Long after the meal had ended in Virginia, conversation and laughter would go long into the night. Tall tales would be told and retold. It was wonderful.

We would only get to go to Virginia 3 or 4 times a year. We had a big shed out back and a whole lot of deer skinning would invariably take place there.

One year, my dad Don Campbell got tickled when he found my cousin-in-law Stuart’s Trebark hunting jacket in the shed, left from the previous fall. Hornets had built a nest around the arm but the hornets weren't there. Dad said that showed how realistic the camouflage was. He said we should have made a picture of it and sent it to Trebark.

Stuart was ecstatic to get his favorite jacket back. He ripped the nest off and put it on if memory serves.

These Thanksgivings stand out among the best. Last year wasn’t bad. We went to Mary’s sister Sonya Batey’s house for dinner. We made family photos and the boys, Matt Batey and Brandon Batey, and I went and fished off a causeway after it was over and I caught a nice bass. Different clan, but still great food and great fun.

All Thanksgivings have not been so festive. As a small child, I remember a time or two when we actually traveled to Virginia on Thanksgiving Day. Dad was always looking for that “good veggie place” just over the hill to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes we would find it and sometimes it was elusive.

But that wasn’t the lowest Thanksgiving. That one was in 1988. My grandfather Kyle Dispennett had been diagnosed with lung cancer just a week or two earlier and he’d had surgery to remove a lung Thanksgiving week.

Mom and I ate our turkey in Baptist Montclair Hospital in Birmingham that Thanksgiving. It was certainly not a festive holiday. Within 9 months, Paw – who was like my second daddy really – would be gone. It was the first time death stung me hard by losing someone I loved so much. 

A lot of people have suffered similar painful losses in the last two years because of COVID and other things.

Your holiday doesn’t have to be an over-the-top blowout like the ones we had in Virginia all those years ago to be successful. If you’re having just a “regular old Thanksgiving” this year and you’ve got most of your family to have it with, be thankful. You are blessed indeed.

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