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Make Tree Trunk Place Cards for Your Holiday Table

These personalized decorations—perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas—were inspired by Southern cooking sensation Brenda Gantt.

Holiday Place Settings, photo by Ginger Rue
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I recently took my mom on a special trip to Brenda Gantt’s bed & breakfast in Andalusia, Alabama. Brenda had become a viral sensation during the pandemic and Mother had enjoyed watching her cooking videos; now she was tickled at the idea of meeting her in person. After all, Mother reasoned, they had a lot in common. They were both born in Columbus, Mississippi, and Brenda had lived for a time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where my family now lives. Brenda and Mother had fun swapping stories about their days living near the train tracks when they were young brides. Brenda said the trains shook her apartment so badly that they once knocked her dishes onto the floor. Mother told about how I once woke up screaming in terror at the train whistle, causing my father to begin mimicking the “woo woo!” sound in his sleep, which only served to terrify me more.

But we exchanged more than stories that weekend. While most of us who were Brenda’s guests that weekend at the Cottle House Bed & Breakfast, looked forward to her Saturday breakfast—featuring many delicious recipes that can be found in Brenda’s new cookbook—I quickly became captivated by a holiday tradition that Brenda shared with us.

It turns out that in addition to being a whiz in the kitchen, Brenda also enjoys crafting. And she just happened to mention a fairly easy project that I now plan to use for my Thanksgiving table this year.

Brenda  told us how long ago she had made personalized “seating cards” out of tree branches or small trunks.  “You cut them thick enough so that they sit up at the table,” she said. These personalized “cards” have become a beloved and time-honored part of the Gantt family Thanksgiving. In fact, she shared that they still leave out the one that says “Big Daddy” in honor of her husband, George, who passed away in 2018 from vascular dementia.

I’m not overly crafty, but this sounded like something even I could do. I enlisted the help of my son and my father-in-law, who cut a nice branch for me to use. My husband said that cutting the wood into disks would be no problem with an electric saw. He was right, but we soon learned that many electric saw blades are painted, and we noticed that the color rubbed off onto the wood. To avoid this, we wound up taking turns using a bow saw. (OK, my husband took most of the turns!) We cut enough disks for both my family and his. While my daughters may be too old to get in on the decorating, I can’t wait to see the fun my six younger nieces and nephews will have personalizing these. They can be decorated with markers, paint, acorns, leaves or a wide variety of crafting materials. And as an added bonus for the adults, the craft time might even provide a short window of quiet during our usually noisy holidays.  

Like Brenda, my family also has a special “Big Daddy”—that’s what our children have always called my dad, continuing the legacy of what I called my dad’s dad. Even though Big Daddy always sits at the head of the table, it will be fun to have a special decoration this year to reserve his space…and everyone else’s too!

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