Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.

One great thing about it is that it comes on a Thursday and that normally means a four day weekend for all, with time to travel to and join families.

Another thing I like is that there are no gifts associated with it, and little commercial hoopla.

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In New England, where I grew up, Thanksgiving was done right. It was a truly memorable and wonderful day. My family really knew how to celebrate it.

There was an appropriate sense of solemnity about the day — not so much anything piously enforced — just because people cherished the day and knew how to observe it.

It came at the end of fall (a gorgeous season in New England), when the air was crisp and the trees had become bare.

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From when I was about twelve years old, we lived in the suburbs. Schools always had a half day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (which, as far as I know, is not observed by schools elsewhere in the USA).

On Wednesday night, there would be a bonfire and rally for the Thanksgiving Day football game. High school Thanksgiving football games were a big deal in Massachusetts.

Our high school team in Canton, Massachusetts had some memorable games against our hated arch rivals, Stoughton.

I will never forget the 1959 game, which we won 18-8 in a stunning upset. (The Stoughton team had been nearly undefeated up to that point.) I remember that game and the excitement of the buildup to it vividly. It was one of the most memorable sports events I ever witnessed.

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Thanksgiving for us always meant a family gathering, at our home or grandparents’. We always had a big sit down dinner with invited guests: mostly relatives; sometimes a friend or acquaintance who was away from home. My parents liked to reach out to others and include people at the dinner table whom they thought would be interesting company. While the family aspect was important, they were “catholic” — broad minded — when it came to invitees. Before we moved from Cambridge to Canton, my parents rented rooms to Harvard graduate students. They would occasionally invite foreign ones to share holiday dinners with us. They liked to invite people who would appreciate being included and had nowhere else to go. They did something similar with an elderly unmarried relative of ours whom they always made sure to invite.

The dinner was truly marvelous. A whole day was spent, it seemed, preparing it (well, all morning), and it took a long time for a team of volunteer dishwashers to do the dishes. (I was never drafted for this duty.) Establishing when the turkey was done was a source of great concern.

My mother would put it in the oven very early in the morning; she would get up especially to do so. It was huge. It had to be done just right, of course, and it always was. My father always carved. I used to think that carving was a great skill, one that I would never learn or possess.

My mother was the main cook, but others contributed. My father used to make scalloped oysters, a side dish he loved and would labor over with enthusiasm. Guests would invariably bring more stuff, mostly pies; we always had about five or six pies to choose from, always homemade.

The number of side dishes was truly outstanding: stuffing, gravy, mashed and sweet potatoes, squash, all sorts of vegetables (including Brussels sprouts and cranberries, neither of which I particularly cared for), and rolls.  Plus, cider and wine and a variety of nuts for appetizers. The turkey was enormous. The amount of effort lavished on the meal was prodigious. Eating it was sheer pleasure.

In the evening, we would have a light snack from a platter of cold turkey.  The next day, my mother would make turkey soup, which seemed to take her forever. The turkey soup would last for several days. I couldn’t get enough of it, it was so nourishing. I would come home from school and ask my mother what was for dinner. “Turkey soup” was the answer. My mother would ask, “Would you like another bowl?” The answer was always yes.

A truly American holiday. Begun in New England and, originally, celebrated only there.

It makes me miss my parents.

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Postscript

When I was in my twenties, I was working in a hospital in Connecticut and could not get home for Thanksgiving one year. I went with four or five other hospital workers to a restaurant where we had a Thanksgiving dinner. We tried to be festive, but it was a big letdown.

Not long ago, my wife and I decided to do as a Polish family whom she knew was doing and order a turkey cooked for us by a Polish catering service. It was rather expensive. But, we didn’t feel in the mood for cooking and it seemed like a good idea.

The turkey that we got was inexcusably flavored with garlic that had been rubbed into it everywhere — it was cooked totally wrong. I was so angry over this, I couldn’t eat the turkey, which helped to ruin my Thanksgiving. I thought to myself, they can’t even get a turkey right! All you have to do is put it the oven and baste it a few times.

— Roger W. Smith

    November 24, 2016

 

Addendum: re the time of year, I can’t help thinking of the following famous lines of Shakespeare:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

(Sonnet 73)

 

 

Alan W. and Elinor Smith with granddaughter

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. He hosts separate websites devoted to the authors Theodore Dreiser and Pitirim A. Sorokin and to classical music as well as family history/genealogy.
This entry was posted in Alan W. Smith (Roger W. Smith's father), Canton High School, Canton, MA, Elinor Handy Smith (Roger W. Smith's mother), general interest, my family, personal reminiscences of Roger W. Smith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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