Traditional or non-traditional, Oklahomans enjoy Thanksgiving together

Thursday, November 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Roy Rains calls it a Cherokee version of Thanksgiving, one that offers smoked venison, baked rabbit, rice and mushroom soup alongside turkey for dinner.

Rains, director of the tribe's Elder Nutrition Program, and other members of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees helped serve about 100 in Tahlequah on Wednesday.

``We always try to get away from the `Americanized' Thanksgiving,'' said Rains, whose program provides Cherokee elders a free, well-balanced lunch weekdays at tribal headquarters.

Anna Glory Rooster was first in line, catching up with old friends as she waited.

``Often we come for the beans and cornbread. But we definitely wanted to come today,'' Rooster said.

For many Oklahomans, the traditional fare of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes will do, but the concept of gathering together, eating and sharing is universal.

Steve Handy, an airborne radar technician, has spent many holidays away from home but got to stay in Oklahoma this year.

``Being home with family is the most important thing,'' Handy said as he left an Oklahoma City grocery store Wednesday. ``I've been overseas quite a few times in very unpleasant circumstances.''

Retiree Fred Sexton believes the holiday is symbolic of the country's founding but worries that Thanksgiving is being overshadowed by Christmas.

``Starting after Halloween, everything is gravitating to Christmas,'' he said.

Herman McFillen, another retiree, said holidays in general ``aren't the same as they used to be.''

His Thanksgiving plans include just as much relaxing as eating.

For some, however, being home is being alone and finding a meal isn't easy.

Members of the First United Methodist Church of Woodward hope their seventh annual Thanksgiving feast will help in those areas.

A variety of people attend the dinner for different reasons, said Tammy Rowekamp, a member of the church committee that coordinates the dinners.

``Perhaps an individual doesn't have anywhere to go for the holidays,'' Rowekamp said. ``Or maybe their family has shrunk and they are alone for Thanksgiving. Whatever the reason, everyone is invited to come and share Thanksgiving with our church.''

Even state prison inmates will share a meal, thanks to the food service crew at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

The 1,400 inmates will feast on 1,500 pounds of roast turkey, 180 gallons of cornbread dressing, 60 gallons of giblet gravy and 30 gallons of cranberry sauce that will be washed down by iced tea.

Seven people _ three staff members and four inmate workers _ began preparing the dinner on Tuesday and were expected to work through to Thursday, said OSP Correctional Food Manager III Don Wagenknecht.

Back at United Keetoowah headquarters in Tahlequah, Betty Lowery and her grandchildren ate their traditional holiday meal together.

Charlotte Lowery, a junior at Tahlequah High School, said she was glad to spend time with her grandmother.

``We grew up around kanuche and everything else,'' she said looking at her tray of sweet potatoes, venison and other vegetables and bread. Kanuche is a broth from pounded hickory nuts, often mixed with hominy and sugar.

For many of the elders, some widowed or not able to cook at home, they got to eat together.

``We come out all the time,'' said Mike May, a native of Hulbert. ``This is a good place to eat.

``It's traditional - but they left out the snake,'' he said, jokingly.