A different kind of thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving column is the one I most look forward to writing each year, even though it is often a mashup of previous columns, which makes sense. My memories and expectations of the holiday—my favorite holiday—center on only a few themes, and each year I just wait to see which ones pop up, and I give them space on the page.


My family is still deciding, at this late date, just how Thanksgiving will look. The virus has taken much of the joy out of our normal preparations and anticipations. Which got me thinking of other Thanksgiving memories, ones that rarely see the light of day, crowded out as they are by the more typical memories of home and hearth.


For example, I have been thinking about things like turkeys drawn on construction paper, the size and shape of a child’s outlined hand. My hand. Your hand. Every hand in every classroom from kindergarten through, oh, I don’t know, what? Third grade? Each finger gets crayoned a different color, orange, brown, yellow. Thanksgiving colors, not actual turkey colors.


Add a red wattle, add some stick feet, and your poor mother will be challenged in a couple of hours to slap that supportive and appreciative expression on her face as she sticks it to the fridge like always. Some creative moms might suggest you put it in a drawer to keep it safe so you can present it to grandma when she shows up.


School Thanksgiving plays are some of the least memorable performances ever. Well, the costumes are memorable, but only in their capacity to disappoint. The construction paper pilgrim hats never looked right, didn’t look right even before they started coming undone around the brim, the buckles falling off. Speaking of, those cardboard and tin-foiled buckles fastened to shoes looked stupid, too.


Which is not to say I didn’t covet them.


The more artistic teachers attempted to pleat and fashion a ruff, that accessory so wildly popular in the 1600s, and sometimes they could make it work, and sometimes they could not. The most reliable piece of costuming was the brown construction paper band we wore around our heads with a cut out feather glued to it. But I am not sure this bit of handicraft is permissible these days.


Even so, let us stop and reflect on the hero in so many ways of those first Thanksgivings. But more than just that. He was economic advisor, extension agent, coastline navigator and local expert on just about everything, helping the Pilgrims survive their early years at Plymouth.


Say it with me.


Squanto.


We loved to hear about Squanto, his name alone being fun to say and enough to recommend him. We didn’t get the full story back in 1960, of course, about his abduction to Spain, and how he made his way to England before returning to his homeland. Or if we did, it was glossed over, but we knew he spoke English and was a diplomatic and helpful fellow, highly esteemed and respected, and we loved him those years ago at Longfellow Elementary.


Depending on how heavy a seasoning hand the school lunch ladies had, the annual Thanksgiving lunch was either wonderful or barely tolerable. I always liked the thin slabs of turkey swimming in a thin broth, and I adore dressing. It was always a cornbread-based dressing, which I like very much but have yet to make properly.


At the time I didn’t even know what sage was, but some years the dressing had just a hint of sage, subtle and mysterious. I liked it. Other years it was so overdone the dressing took on a Comet cleanser note, and it was so disappointing I wanted to cry.


But those yeast rolls. Those yeast rolls. I can still smell them, their aroma wafting up from the basement to fill the hallways with a grandmotherly essence, so different from the paste wax, sawdust and green bean smells of normal days. I would give anything to have that recipe. Seriously. If any of you have the Longfellow recipe for yeast rolls, contact me. Sister Schubert does her best, but still, she is no Longfellow lunch room lady.


Some of my best Thanksgivings have started out in unusual ways, away from home perhaps, or small in number, or with unfamiliar food. But regardless, Thanksgiving reminds us and focuses us in ways that other holidays do not. May yours be good this year, even as it is different.

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