Of course my mind wandered and I flashed on the years of turkey dinners that have come and gone. Most were at my mother’s table, and with the exception of her choice of bread dressing over cornbread, they were perfect.
There was one year I missed Thanksgiving at the house for a run to Sonora for a long weekend of deer hunting with friends on a Sutton County ranch. I don’t remember the year, but it had to be in the 1970s and — while that isn’t exactly the dark ages — it is light-years from today’s Texas.
In those days it was an adventure getting from here to there, and I am not referring to the reliability of my old standard-shift Chevy truck. From Tyler it was at least an eight-hour drive up and down two-lane ranch roads and through every little town along the way. Tyler to Waco, Waco to Goldthwaite, Goldthwaite to San Saba, San Saba to Brady, then Menard and Fort McKavett and finally Sonora. And those were the big-name towns along the way.
I actually liked the drive, especially west of Waco when it turned to ranch country. You had to stay at the ready because the driver in every approaching truck was going to wave and you didn’t want to be unfriendly.
Also, as soon as you got out of farming country it was time to go on point looking for every deer or turkey in the pastures along the road. After enough trips you knew where the deer would always be, but it was the ones you never expected that were the most fun. However, the problem with deer-spotting on the road is that it’s the equivalent of today’s texting and driving.
The same with turkeys. There were no turkeys in East Texas, and it doesn’t seem like there were as many out west as there are now.
Spotting a gobbler in a pasture was really something.
A trip from Tyler to Sonora took planning. In ranching country there were few self-service gas stations. You had to know who was open after dark and on Sunday. There were even less on a holiday. And there wasn’t such a thing as debit cards. It was cash or a check.
Also yet to exist in the towns west of the Brazos were places like McDonald’s, Sonic and Chicken Express. There might be a Dairy Queen in the bigger towns, otherwise it was the local steakhouse. And those were great places to get a good meal at a decent price.
My plan that Thanksgiving was to stop at the Brady Steakhouse. It was just off the square and $5 would buy a feast.
But when I finally got there, it was closed for the holiday. After driving halfway across Texas for Thanksgiving dinner, I ended up with a barbecue sandwich in a plastic wrapper cooked in a microwave oven at the only store open in town. I was depressed.
Honestly, I remember nothing about the hunt itself. I don’t remember if I shot anything or if anyone else did. Chances are it would have been a buck if we did, because in those days killing a doe required a permit, and a friend’s uncle for some reason had control of those. Taking one of his goats would have been a lot easier than squeezing a doe permit out of his hands.
On that trip the Brady Steakhouse was just closed for the day. Since then, it and many others around the state have closed permanently or become places serving pre-prepared meals that are about as tasty as the other fast-food offerings or barbecue in a plastic wrapper.
So on this day I give thanks to have enjoyed some of the good old steakhouses in the prime. Like mom’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, they are treasures of the past.
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