Kate Flora: This is a “ghost post” from my late mother, A. Carman Clark, from her book of collected country living essays, From the Orange Mailbox. This takes me back to childhood Thanksgivings, when the women bustled around in the kitchen, preparing the meal, and the men put on their red and black buffalo plaid, hefted their guns, and headed out to hunt. Enjoy this meditation on family and holidays.
Are there other families where there’s a bit of Thanksgiving Day guilt? Where the women are confessing, if only to themselves, that in past years they’ve always cheated the menfolk out of the fabled joys of this holiday gathering?
Looking back at all the family get-togethers here on the farm, I’m sure that if we women had taken an objective look at the situation some arrangements about taking turns could have been accomplished. It wasn’t really necessary every year for men to be out hiking through the silent woods while we monopolized the cheerful togetherness of preparing the holiday dinner and enjoyed the noisy socializing of the houseful of small cousins.
Warmly garbed in orange jackets, we women could have been generous enough to leave the men to cook and referee while we wore ourselves out tramping through the forest. Since no one in my recollections ever shot a deer on Thanksgiving Day anyhow, we could have stashed the guns in the barn as we went out and been unencumbered as we wandered through the woods.
From the vantage point of the long stonewall leading down to the swamp we could have observed the wildlife trails, watched the squirrels and partridges, and caught up on our annual talk about family life.
Returning at dusk with rosy cheeks and frozen toes, we could have plopped ourselves down before the living room fire to rest while dinner was being served. Probably–with enough forethought–we could have taken that after dinner nap while the men wiped off the assorted cousins and settled them into cribs before they tackled the dirty dishes and refrigerator juggling to get the leftovers put away.
That cheery Norman Rockwell picture of the happy Walton family was, alas, denied to the men in all the family gatherings on this farm. I often think of what they missed by being out in the woods all day.
Sometimes I think I’d like to interview some of the people responsible for the media visions of family holidays and ask if they truly believe in such delightful togetherness. In real life, when you know Uncle Henry hasn’t spoken to Cousin Claude in ten years, it’s a bit ridiculous to expect that after the Thanksgiving dinner grace, those two are going to be thankful they’re seated across the table from one another. If Aunt Hattie erupts into shrill tirades each time she sees bearded young men, being thankful for a well-stuffed turkey isn’t going to soften her reaction to your niece’s hirsute suitor.
If I’m going to reminisce about Thanksgiving, perhaps I should begin with the first one. I don’t mean that one by the big rock with the weary women in their unwashed British import gowns kneeling around a smokey hearth to baste the greasy game.
I mean the one I first recall, when my older brother spoiled the whole day by getting peppered with buck shot and the dinner dried out while the doctor pried out the pellets. On that Thanksgiving day, the rest of us were told to be thankful because brother Bill had deliberately disobeyed and worn father’s new mouton jacket. That fleecy garment was never the same–it shed shot for months–but after having to stand up to eat for several days, Bill went forth as a blessed survivor with all his sins forgiven.
There was the year the pumpkin pie turned upside down on its way to the oven and the chasing children hit the goop at full speed. The year we journeyed forth to join the relatives with the pies and vegetables carefully packed in the car trunk. But the lock jammed and dinner waited until someone found the tools to remove the back seat and extract the food.
Having stuffed and roasted more than 900 pounds of Thanksgiving turkeys and spent many a holiday singing, “Nobody Knows the Dishes I’ve Washed,” there’s a perversity which persists in my Thanksgiving thinking. In spite of the repetition of media images of family gatherings which are all sugar and spice and everything nice, the folks who share this day together remain human beings. And all such creatures have their limitations even on this November Thursday.
In joining hands for the traditional grace before dinner–expressing thanks as those Pilgrims did–it’s a good idea to take a quick peek at family and friends and say a little extra thanks because the creator stuff into us a sense of humor.
When we gather together, that’s more important than the turkey.