Thanksgiving gives chance to celebrate life
by By Sherri Brown Staff writer
Lena Drake, left, and Shirley Williamson get together for the first time after Drake donated a kidney to Williamson this year.
We always have dried butter beans at Thanksgiving. I don’t soak my butter beans because that makes the skins come off. I wash them real good and bring enough water to cover the beans to a boil. Keep an eye on them and just let them cook. If you stir as you go it makes your soup in it a little thicker. All I add is salt and a little chunk of butter. A lot of people like ham or a ham bone in it, but I don’t. Just keep you some water in them and cook them real slow. – Shirley Williamson

The celebration will last all day long on Thursday, punctuated by ham and deviled eggs, dried butter beans, macaroni and cheese and, as always, homemade-from-scratch banana pudding. The tables will be full of family member’s favorite dishes, but gratefulness will be main course.

Last year on Thanksgiving Day, Lena Drake announced to her extended family that she would be donating a kidney to her aunt, Shirley Williamson. No one knew if the two would be a match or if the 21-year-old would pass the extensive physical and psychological tests required to be a donor, but Drake was sure she was the one.

“My mom’s sister – she’s not related to Aunt Shirley – was being tested to be a donor and I’d been praying really hard that it would work out,” Drake said. “One night I fell asleep praying about it and I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like God was telling me to get tested.”

About a week before Thanksgiving, word went out that Drake’s aunt was not a candidate to donate her kidney. Drake waited until the holiday dinner so she could tell Williamson face-to-face that she was going to be her donor.

“I told her I’d been praying really hard about it and I knew I was going to be her donor,” Drake said.

Williamson, 64, didn’t know what to think.

“Lena never said, ‘If I pass (the testing)’ – it was always when,” she recalled.

She was almost afraid to believe it would happen. Several relatives had been tested, but none had passed the extensive and rigorous requirements to donate.

Immediately after the holiday weekend, Drake started setting up appointments to have the required testing. She also started a journal to keep a record of the events as well as her thoughts throughout the next few months.

On her way home from one of the tests at Emory Hospital, Drake stopped by to see her aunt in her Newnan house. She toured the home “clinic” where Williamson’s husband, Roger, gave her dialysis four days a week.

Later, she wrote in her journal:

“I feel that Aunt Shirley has been given a chance to have a normal life again. On the way home from Emory Mom and I stopped by to chat and have lunch with Aunt Shirley and we were given a tour of the ‘clinic.’ The room has a bed and a couch. The rest of the room consists of boxes from ceiling to floor that are filled with the supplies that he has to have to give dialysis to her. It was a really humbling experience for me. He loves her so much. He takes care of all of her treatments. I do not think that such an amazing, sweet, loving woman of God deserves to live like that. I want her and Uncle Roger to be able to have that four extra hours a day to do something that they enjoy – like sleeping till 9 instead of getting up at 6 to start the treatment.”

In January, Drake was told she was a positive match. More tests followed to make sure she was healthy enough for the surgery. In February the final testing was done and Drake was cleared to donate one of her two healthy kidneys.

She wasn’t a bit surprised.

Williamson was shopping when her cell phone rang. She stepped outside the store to take the phone call. When Drake told her she was finally cleared to donate a kidney, Williamson cried.

“I starting telling everyone – even strangers – that I was getting a kidney,” she said.

In March, Williamson received Drake’s kidney. The following days held challenges for Williamson, but gradually she has become stronger with her new kidney. Just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, she threw away the last of her supplies in her upstairs dialysis “clinic.”

My niece’s mother-in–law Hazel York makes the best ham in the world. Rinse and pat ham dray. Place ham on foil – not enough to cover but just a little up the sides. Place in a brown paper bag. Pour a can of Coke over ham. Fold and tuck the bag so it won’t catch on fire. If your bag has a seam, place seam side up. Place in a 325-degree oven for about three hours. Remove from oven, split bag and remove fat from ham. In a bowl mix 1/2 box of brown sugar and 1/2 cup honey. Pat onto ham. Place bag back over ham. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees. Baste every 10 minutes for about 30 to 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes and slice. – Shirley Williamson

The Williamson sisters – all seven of them – still gather together for holidays and celebrations as much as possible. They also take a trip together every year. This past year marked their 22nd adventure together. They celebrated their sister Shirley’s health as well as their part in making it all happen.

Three years ago the sisters combined their favorite recipes and made 35 copies of each recipe to put in a three-ring binder. They gave the cookbooks as gifts to family members. When other family and friends saw the books, they asked for their own copies.

In May 2006, the women ordered 300 copies of “Sisters Family Cookbook” and put them up for sale.

“We thought we’d dust them the rest of our lives,” said Ellen Hubbard, Williamson’s sister, who lives in Hogansville.

They sold all 300 copies the day they arrived. They ordered 300 more. Then 400 more of the cookbooks that had not only more than 100 pages of recipes, but also stories and homespun advice sprinkled throughout the pages.

Before Williamson could receive a new kidney, she was required to have $10,000 in an account, set aside to pay for the medicines she would need after surgery.

“We went to an orientation and they told us we needed a fundraiser to raise that money,” Williamson said. “On the way home I just cried. I told Ellen I didn’t know what we would do.”

Ellen Hubard had the answer.

“We have a fundraiser,” she told her sister. “God put it in our laps. It’s the cookbook.”

The sisters had a reason to market their cookbook – to help Williamson. Eventually, they sold 5,000 copies.

“I haven’t had to worry about my medicine,” Williamson said.

The cookbooks became so popular, people requested a second one and this year the sisters compiled another book, “Sisters Family Cookbook Second Helping,” with almost twice the number of recipes. When the first box of the new books arrived, all the sisters gathered and called Lena Drake to join them. They wanted her to have the first cookbook since it was dedicated to her.

On Thursday, the ham and butter beans, the pear salad and the seven layer salad will be passed around the table, along with gratitude for the gift of life.

• For recipes from the Sisters Family cookbooks and a list of places to buy them, see page 3.

Sherri Brown can be reached at sbrown@ or at (706) 884-7311, ext. 240.
© 2008