The Times West Virginian

November 19, 2013

Leisha Elliott’s clan has a tradition of nontraditional Thanksgivings

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Leisha Elliott’s family has a tradition of nontraditional Thanksgivings, she said.

“We do different things. But we get together and laugh. Even though we all live relatively close, we get busy with our day-to-day life, work and kids, and don’t get together as often,” she said. “Thanksgiving is not as hurried. We relax and tell the same jokes as we did last year. My kids get to see how important it is to stay close to your family. Growing up, as kids we fought and carried on. But now our time together is really important.”

Sometimes they travel at Thanksgiving. One year they returned to Washington, D.C., where she was born, to visit friends. Another year, they went to Connecticut to see her sister-in-law. They took the train into the city to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but their train broke down. She remembers talking on the cellphone with her mother, who was in Farmington — watching the parade on TV.

Another year they spent the holiday at a bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania.

“Dad was trying to watch a football game on TV. The screen was very small and the people were orange,” she recalled. “But it was fun, the kind of thing you remember.”

The first year they were married, she and Nelson decided to host Thanksgiving dinner. But their wedding was just a few weeks before and they were literally opening wedding gifts to make sure they had the right amount of place settings, and reading directions on the food chopper.

“Sometimes, as you’re doing something, you don’t think it will have a lasting impact on your memories, but it does,” she said.

Sometimes somebody else’s tradition becomes your own.

One of her favorite Thanksgiving memories is going through Fairview to her grandparents’ home. They’d pass a dress shop that had fall decorations in the window. That night, as they passed through on their way home, it would be decorated for Christmas.

“To me, that was such a magical thing,” she said. “Now I realize she gave up her Thanksgiving because she was there decorating. And a lot of people probably have that same memory.”

Every Thanksgiving, Nelson and his family have the famed “Elliott Turkey Bowl” at the Mannington ball field.

“Everybody gets to play,” she said. “The older generation playing the younger. They play some flag football and then eat Thanksgiving dinner. It’s fun.”

Sometimes you don’t know you have a tradition until it doesn’t happen.

She and her siblings would always get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought them.

“I’m sure this was much to my parents’ chagrin,” she said. “Now having four children, I realize they’d probably been up very late the night before.”

Before long, her aunt and uncle would be at the door. With Aunt Betty would be the sour cream coffee cake she made only on Christmas morning.

“She’s been coming with this cake for around 42 years, so when I say it’s a tradition, I mean it’s a tradition,” Elliott said with a laugh. They’d have other foods for breakfast, which changed with the years, but there was always that cake.

“Even now, that cake is always there, although that early morning breakfast is now a mid-morning brunch.

“Except for one Christmas about four years ago. She didn’t have the cake. She said she forgot it. We said can you go home and get it? And she said she never even made it. She never even thought about it,” Elliott said. “We could not believe this had happened. Oh, we harassed her! That evening, we all got together again for leftovers, and here she was with the cake. So that Christmas we had it for dinner.

“It was such a simple thing. A cake. Other breakfast items have changed. And the times we’ve gotten together have changed.

“But this cake remains the steadfast thing.

“You don’t miss a tradition until you don’t have it,” she said. “We got a taste of that. It makes a difference. It’s important to pass these things on. You take for granted these things will always be there, but that isn’t always the case.

“My aunt got the recipe from her mother-in-law, and who knows where she got it? It could go back generations. It’s a nice remembrance of her.”

The year before she and Nelson married, the family gathered at his house after Christmas Eve midnight Mass. Typical for a bachelor, the fridge was bare. The only food was some beef and cheese sticks.

“And maybe some flat pop,” she said.

They still gather on Christmas Eve, although a bit earlier, and their guest list and menu have grown. But cheese sticks are still always served.

“It’s changed a little, but the core remains the same,” she said. “The best traditions are not planned. Who would have thought, the first time my aunt made that cake, or that first Christmas Eve gathering. They just happened.”

Whatever the tradition, “It all falls back to family,” she said. “Even if it’s not a blood-related family. It’s people you share that time with.

“Find some things to laugh about and bring joy, and take time to realize how fortunate you are.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at