by Bobby Pepper // photos by Lindsay Pace
Families make new traditions by opening their doors for those in their area who have nowhere to go for Thanksgiving, ensuring everyone feels at home and has a proper Thanksgiving meal.
Teresa Roberts likes to communicate with her six sisters and one brother each year to find out who’s coming to the family’s Thanksgiving meal.
Roberts, however, has discovered that the guest list for the annual holiday feast is subject to change up to the moment when the meal is placed on the table.
“We never know who’s going to bring who,” said Roberts, who lives in the Pine Grove community in southern Lee County. “We don’t know.”
Just like turkey and dressing are Thanksgiving traditions, so is the tradition of Roberts and her siblings to invite people outside of their blood family for a meal and time of fellowship. Together, they give thanks for their many blessings.
It’s all part of giving back to help others, something Roberts and her siblings learned from their parents, Clyde Sr. and Shirley McMorris Fields.
“This is the kind of stuff we do,” she said.
Thanksgiving rotates between the homes of the siblings, who all live in Pine Grove except for one sister who lives in Tupelo. On occasion, it winds up at the Fields’ home place, which is located in the section of Pine Grove east of U.S. 45 in Monroe County.
There’s no formal method of deciding who’s invited, according to Roberts, just whoever the family member wants to welcome to the gathering. Roberts says the invites help the guests feel connected at a time when holiday loneliness can lead to depression.
Roberts recalls several of their holiday guests, like Lajuanda Griffin, an attorney who moved to Tupelo from Jackson and opened a restaurant. She and her two children were invited for the festivities. Another guest was a classmate of Roberts’ daughter, Alivia, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. When Alivia found out her classmate, who is from the Dominican Republic but lived in New York, wasn’t going home for the holidays, Alivia invited her to spend the holidays in Mississippi.
“Someone might say, ‘Somebody doesn’t have anywhere to eat this year. Let’s invite them,'” Roberts said. “We don’t know who it might be. It might be someone whose family member just passed away and they’re by themselves, or somebody new in town.”
Roberts recalls one instance about nine years ago when one of her sisters, Janice Fields, told about another family that was in need. After inviting them to the family’s holiday meal, Roberts and her siblings made a commitment to support the family.
“My sister called me saying, ‘Teresa, I just ran across this woman,’” she said. “We brought them Thanksgiving dinner. Later we moved them into an apartment in Shannon. We adopted this family. They now spend all holidays with us in some form.”
On the north end of Lee County, sisters Melissa Garrett of Guntown and Sharon Dunaway of Saltillo also learned from their parents how to share their Thanksgiving with others.
“Our mom and dad said, ‘If you know someone and they don’t have anywhere to go, open your home,’” Garrett said.
Garret said she and her sister have made two men who reside in a Saltillo assisted living facility a part of their holiday gatherings.
“My sister and I get them on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she said. “They eat with us because they don’t have any family. We’ve been doing this for about 10 years. We had another lady who would come, too, but her health declined and she was moved to a nursing home. We always ask if someone new comes in there that doesn’t have family. We would be glad for them to come also.”
Garrett and Dunaway alternate hosting the events, but Garrett said Thanksgivings are mostly at Dunaway’s home because there’s more room.
In addition to the usual Thanksgiving meal, Garrett said the family have another tradition following the meal.
“We always play Bingo after we eat,” she said. “They get some enjoyment out of that. They get to take things back home with them. At Christmas, they receive gifts just like we do.”
This year, COVID-19 is causing families to rethink how they gather for the holidays. The last thing they want to do is cancel, so they’re making plans to adjust.
“Because of COVID, everybody will wear a mask and social distance,” Garrett said. “For Christmas, we’re going to do it in the Saltillo United Methodist Church family life center, so that we won’t be sitting close together for a long period of time.’
Like Roberts with her family’s gatherings, Garrett said she wants their guests to experience the joy and warmth of feeling welcome in a home for a nice Thanksgiving meal. She gives thanks for the opportunity to share it.
“It makes them happy, and it’s wonderful to see that,” she said.