Tuesday, February 20, 2018

November 2013 – Message From The Guildmaster

November 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Message from the Guildmaster


In central Virginia, November arrived with the first cold weather of the season. Whether you subscribe to the theories regarding our changing climate or not, it is hard to dispute that our weather patterns are very different from the past. Our ancestors described the colder seasons beginning much earlier than our current times.  I suspect that they did not look forward to these months since staying warm required a lot of work in previous centuries.

With the advent of colder weather comes thoughts of the holidays. These days, one barely finishes Halloween  before the advertisements begin for Christmas.  Thanksgiving has been largely relegated to a day of overindulgence and televised ball sports. In our modern society, the last quarter of the year is one big marketing campaign, designed to spark consumerism, increase personal debt, and bolster the economy.

You have probably head me speak of it before, but as a child our holiday celebrations revolved around the gathering of family and friends. Thanksgiving was a day for our large family to come to my grandparent’s home, usually starting around mid-day, or earlier. The women would be busy in the kitchen preparing the food for the coming meal. They talked and laughed, all the while busily cooking and working under the watchful supervision of my grandmother.  Family recipes were held in reverence and one could overhear threads of conversation regarding who made the best rolls, potato salad, lima beans, peach pickle, or chess pie. I think that my mother, aunts, and cousins viewed all of this as a rather pleasant exchange, and looked forward to it each year.

Outside, my grandfather would be planning the day’s traditional “hunt”. This was not a serious quest for game, but a congenial gathering of the family men, in other words, a great excuse to walk over the mountainside carrying guns, smoking or chewing tobacco,  and discuss the world as they saw fit. My father, uncles and grandfather could spend hours wandering the hillsides and fields, resolving important questions about what tractor did the best job plowing, or when it would be time to start pruning fruit trees for the coming year. I eagerly followed along, often hoping that attention would turn more toward the serious task of hunting. Usually, thoughts of this nature are known as “wishful thinking”.

Much later, after all of the favorite recipes had been exchanged, and all of the rabbits, squirrels and quail were safely tucked into their burrows and nests, we would sit down to dinner. In central Virginia, one does not refer to dinner as just an evening meal. Dinner is often an expansive (and time-consuming) mid-day or afternoon meal. This custom extends back for centuries and is common in many parts of the South. One easy way to seriously offend my paternal grandmother was to thank her for “lunch”. This would generate a sour look and a loud exhalation of disgust, along with an admonition that “lunch” was not what we had just enjoyed.

In our home, Thanksgiving dinner was served at several tables. The main table in the dining room was reserved for the primary (and older) family members. My grandfather would be at the head of the table, my father and mother immediately to his right. My paternal grandparents would be seated there, along with my closest aunts and uncles. Other family members and friends would be seated at another table in the living room. The children had their own table, usually in the den.  We thought this was great fun, since we were free to talk as we liked, and return to the serving table for “seconds” as we wished.

Dinners of this type sometimes lasted for hours. It seemed there was an inexhaustible supply of topics for conversation.  There also appeared to be an unending supply of food. My grandmother rarely sat down to eat until later. She was busy bringing in a large array of side dishes and several servings of rolls, fresh out of the oven. Everyone was advised to “butter a hot one” so as not to be left without a suitable piece of bread during the meal. Of course we all complied with her wishes, not wanting to offend a woman who was admired for her baking abilities.

Later hours would find everyone seated in the living room, enjoying more lively conversations and discussing the local community and its inhabitants. There were many colorful characters in our area, and stories often surrounded their lives and exploits. In the evening, as folks began to leave, they made plans for Christmas, deciding which nights would be filled with more food and celebrations. My family enjoyed these times immensely. They would talk for weeks about the holidays, and everyone present.

I suppose the message of these holidays was simply the opportunity to be together and share as family and friends without commercial distractions.  I hope that some of you still enjoy these occasions, and the opportunity to gather with those you love. These days, almost all of our family is gone, and there will be no more holidays like the ones from my youth. I miss those times, and often think of them. We visit with close friends for the holidays, but nothing like times past.

May all of your holiday seasons  be enjoyable and rewarding.

All the best,

Jeff Bibb


3 Responses to “November 2013 – Message From The Guildmaster”
  1. Raymond Toutman says:

    Thank you, Jeff.  Ahhh, the memories…

  2. John Pround says:

    Another nice article, but what is “Chess” pie? Never heard of it up here in the north country and I love pies!

  3. Jeff Bibb says:


    Okay, here you go…..

    These recipes are from the Mary Washington College cookbook where my mother went to college in Fredericksburg, VA. Can’t get more traditional than this.

    We usually had the regular chess pie or the lemon, I really can’t remember having a chocolate one.

    It is a treat, and the women in our family would discuss chess pie for a long time.

    Here is the page from my mother’s cookbook: http://www.hornguild.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Chess-Pie.pdf

    Hope this helps, and enjoy!

    All the best,


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