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Thanksgiving dinner is served for six dozen (plus some more)
SoVaNow.com / December 02, 2013Preparing a Thanksgiving feast for a large family can be quite an undertaking, as anyone who has ever spent their holiday slaving away in the kitchen can attest.
Dinner for a dozen can be nothing short of an adventure.
But feeding 79 people?
That was the feat accomplished Thanksgiving Day by the extended Clark family of South Boston, which saw multiple generations come together at the American Legion hall to continue a tradition that goes back to the family’s forebears, Robert and Bea Clark.
The couple, now deceased, lived in a four-room house on Chalmers Street with their 11 children, all of whom are still living today and were on hand in full force this Thanksgiving holiday representing the family’s elder generation.
Mr. Clark was an employee of the Halifax Cotton Mill and Mrs. Clark was a full-time mother who tended over a flock born over a span of 20 years. Despite having little material wealth, the Clarks made do, supplementing the household income with odd jobs and saving money by raising vegetables in the garden and wearing hand-me-down clothes until they fell apart. The children who were reared in that house went on to a variety of careers as adults — in nursing, as a city manager and a mail carrier, going to work for manufacturing companies and for Dominion Power, all the while as they raised families of their own.
“We’ve been blessed,” said Doc Clark of South Boston, whose real first name is Lloyd but who bears the nickname in honor of the late Dr. Lloyd Eastlack, who delivered all but the youngest of the Clark children. “We’re truly a blessed family for our health,” he said, and “we’ve tried to be a blessing to others, which is what we were always told and taught to do.”
For one day, the Clarks are a blessing for the grocery store lucky enough to earn their business. This year, the Thanksgiving meal consisted of two 25-pound turkeys and a turkey breast, two hams, ten pounds of creamed potatoes, string beans, butterbeans, purple hull peas, fried okra, turnip salad, deviled eggs and many, many different kinds of dessert, from chocolate eclair to coconut pie.
“You have to understand, we’re talking about four overflowing tables of just food and two overflowing tables of desserts,” said Cindi Clark Owen, the youngest of the 11 Clark children and coordinator of the holiday feast. Putting on such a monumental meal, not surprisingly, demands a group effort: “We’ve been busy,” she said with a laugh.
Aside from bringing together the 11 children of Robert and Bea Clark, the event is meant to solidify family lore and togetherness among successive generations. This year, said Cindi Owen, the Thanksgiving Day meal brought together 26 children and 30 grandchildren of the Clark siblings. With spouses, the group gathered at the Thanksgiving table — multiple tables, actually — numbered 79.
“We normally have at least 100, but for various reasons there were a lot of them who were not there” this year, said Owen.
Thanksgiving was always a time for the adult Clark children to come together while their mother was living and still able to prepare the meal, and the Clark siblings have kept up the tradition since her death. At first, they staged the Thanksgiving feast at the fireman’s shed by the middle school, then they moved it to the American Legion stew shed in town. Today, the Clarks reserve the more spacious Legion dance hall to accommodate the event.
Members of the cooking team are assigned the task of whipping up Mama Clark’s favorites — one cherished dish is a fried apple pie that goes by the somewhat unappetizing name of Dog Ears. “You fold them over and they’re in a moon shape,” said Owen. “Mama used to call them ‘dog ears’ because that’s what they look like.
“Each one of us cooks one of things that Mama did so well,” she said. “A lot of what we have is what she would have cooked.”
Another staple of the meal is beans, served for lunch almost every day when the Clark children were growing up. “We came up on beans and creamed potatoes, and now they’re telling is to go back and eat beans for the protein,” said Doc Clark with a chuckle.
The extended Clark family also gets together for the Labor Day weekend, but Thanksgiving was and is a special time for the family — highlighted this year by having the oldest of the siblings, Bobby, on hand from Georgia.
“This is the first time for Thanksgiving in a long time for Bobby,” said Owen, who lives in South Boston, as do many of her nine brothers and one sister. (“Six of us probably live within three miles of each other,” she said. Bobby Clark resides in Georgia and brother Ralph, who lives in Kinston, N.C., are the only children out of the 11 who live outside Halifax County.)
For the record, the Clark children are Bobby, Ralph, Zane, Doc, Stanley, Tom, Bear (real name Aubrey, “we call him bear like Smokey the Bear, because he kept getting kicked out of school for smoking,” said his youngest sister), Barry, Peewee (David), Muffin (Sybil) and Cindi.
It may be a sprawling family, and it may tough to bring all its members together in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but the Clarks find a way each year to rekindle the spirit of family togetherness that comes from having grown up in a home with only three bedrooms and one bathroom for 13 people.
“We were all blessed by good people looking out for us as we came along,” said Doc Clark. “Back in the old days the neighborhood and church took care of people.” Cindi Owen added how her fiercely independent mother, in her last days living in a nursing home, rejected the idea that the family would ever need anyone’s help to get by: “I’m going to tell all these folks how to raise people without welfare!” she remembers her mother announcing at the nursing home, seemingly to no one in particular.
Thanksgiving is a time to remember that spirit of togetherness, and share memories, and make new ones to pass on to youngest members of the family. “All of us are doing pretty good, although we usually discuss what pills we have to take when get together,” said Doc Clark. “There are a lot of stories that get told when we get together.”
Added his sister Cindi Owen: “It’s all about making memories, the children can get together and run and play, and the bigger kids can play, too. It’s also an honor — it’s an honor for Mama and Daddy.”
CommentsI am proud to know all of the Clark's (except for Bobby I guess). Always admired
Mr and Mrs Clark for raising such a responsible and good hearted family against the odds. Great to see them so appreciated for all the hard work and love they shared.
- By Barry Slagle on 12 / 02 / 13
CommentsThe American Legion was also a focal point as well. We were all at the pool in the summer, and the stew in the fall was a high point. The Clarks are a great family - love you Muffin and Cindy!!
- By Pat Dobson on 12 / 02 / 13
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