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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Thanksgiving and The Five Fs

November 20, 2019

The primary and traditional American holidays are Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I enjoy each of them for different reasons. There are two that typically bring my family together, Christmas and Thanksgiving. We’ll cover Christmas in a few weeks. Today, I’d like to focus on Thanksgiving.

Holidays look different through the eyes of a kid. As a youngster I was always excited about Christmas for the material aspects. Easter wasn’t about resurrection yet; it was about colored eggs and candy. New Year’s Eve and Day weren’t even a blip on the radar in my early years. Years later the day became about football games, and the eve was about partying. I have always loved the patriotic aspects of the Fourth of July, as a kid and an adult. Halloween was second only to Christmas when I was a kid. I typically started scouring the previous year’s Sears Christmas catalogue in August trying to decide which costume to wear in October.

As a child I probably didn’t give Thanksgiving much of a thought. Our family ate the typical Thanksgiving meal year-round. My grandmother prepared a traditional lunch of turkey and dressing every month at her home on Sundays after church. She followed a four-week rotation that typically covered roast beef one Sunday, leg of lamb the next week, fried chicken in a more casual setting one week, and turkey the other week.

In those days I just saw Thanksgiving as another turkey-themed meal at my grandmother’s house and the chance to get out of school a couple of days during the week. There were several Thanksgivings that we spent at my great uncle’s house in Brooksville, Mississippi.

Brooksville is a small town on Highway 45 just north of Macon and midway between Columbus and Meridian, Miss. My great-grandfather owned the general store there from the late 1800s until the mid 20th Century. My grandfather was the oldest of seven St. John boys. By the time I came around there were only three of those boys left. The youngest, Harrison St. John, was the principal of the local high school and our host for those Brooksville Thanksgivings.

I remember riding up there and somewhere around Electric Mills or Shuqualak the Piney Woods gave way to the hardwoods. My most vivid memories of those Thanksgivings were of the food, but a close second was getting to play in the leaves of my great uncle’s yard. As a kid my outside world revolved around pine straw, pinecones, and pine trees. In Hattiesburg we raked pine straw. In Brooksville they raked leaves. Whether you’re a 10-year old boy or a 58-year old man, leaves are far superior to straw.

If I were asked to rank the holidays as a kid, Thanksgiving would have probably come in last on the list. Though what I didn’t know then, that I do know now, is that those Thanksgivings— whether at my grandmother’s home or my great uncle’s in Brooksville— were the foundation for much of what I believe today.

For a substantial portion of my early life I looked for fun in all of the wrong places. Somewhere around my 40th year I began to finally put life, and the meaning of life, together in a coherent and meaningful way. I began to focus on the things that matter most— not worldly or material things, but— the Five Fs.

The Five Fs are (in order) faith, family, friends, food, and fun. To me, they are the components that lead to a rich and full life.

Faith is the key component. Whatever your faith may be, it must be first and foremost.

Family— I witnessed a strange phenomenon when my wife was late in her pregnancy with our first child and noticeably showing. We would be at a social event or just dining out, and people would come up to us and say, “It goes so fast.” At first, I didn’t think anything of it. But after the third or fourth time hearing the same heartfelt testimonial, the statement started to make an impression on me. There was a look in their eyes that was one of regret and longing. My wife and I talked about it one night and made a commitment to do everything within our power to prioritize parenthood. We did. Though I am sad to report that, even though we milked every moment of parenting, it still went too fast.

Friends— My grandfather used to say, “A rich man has his first dollar. A true wealthy man has his first friend.” He also used to say, “You can judge a man’s wealth, not by the size of his bank account, but by the depth and breadth of his friendships.” Today I feel as rich as Bill Gates, not because I have a bunch of money in the bank— I don’t. But due to the depth and breadth of my friendships.

Food— Many people would scoff at the thought of food being in a list of life’s priorities, but they would be wrong. Think back to your fondest memories. I’ll bet food played a part in most of them. Whether it was dining with friends to celebrate a special occasion, or just sitting around the family dinner table sharing a meal, food was probably involved. It’s the thing that brings us together.

Faith, family, friends, food, and fun. As I stated earlier, I looked for fun in a lot of the wrong places for a substantial portion of my early years. What I finally learned is that the key to fun is in the first four Fs. I used to try and manufacture fun. Though when I look back, the best memories of my childhood and adult years were when the Five Fs were involved.

I have eaten meals all over the world in all manner of situations. But those lunches at my grandmother’s house trump them all. I am a 58-year old man, still talking and writing about the meals I experienced at my grandmother’s house 50 years ago. That’s because they were the epitome of the Five Fs. They were usually after church. There was always family involved. Friends were always invited and usually there, and there was always plenty of food. With all of those occurring at once it’s almost impossible not to have fun and create lasting memories.

The next time you’re sharing a meal with friends and family, push away from the table for a minute, and just let the moment sink in. Soak it up. Say a little prayer of gratitude. Let your friends and family know how much you love and appreciate them. One never knows when lasting memories are being created.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with the Five Fs.

This week’s recipe: Cranberry Relish

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