Remember how in elementary school we made paper buckles for our shoes for Thanksgiving, and paper Pilgrim hats for our heads?
One year my 5th grade class made all of Plimoth Plantation on a felt-covered mound in the back of the room: a whole little village of cabins made of small painted milk cartons, with a forest behind, through which the gracious natives would come, bearing corn. (Years later I visited the real Plimoth Plantation and learned that those first settlers pretty much steered clear of fresh water, choosing instead to drink a healthful quart or two of beer a day. Looking at the real slaughtered hog hanging headless and upside-down by a doorway, I could understand how they might have needed it.)
If they drank to get through the big day as well, they sure weren’t the last to do so: My mother and aunt used to tell the story of her dad once coming home a freshly killed turkey given him as payment for his services as a lawyer.
“Here you go, girls!” he said to them, slinging it onto the table and moseying off in search of his slippers.
They took one look at it, with its long feet and enough feathers to stuff a pillow with and headed straight for the Scotch.
Turkey is never all that easy to make; don’t let anyone fool you. If four people in a family are snoozing away Thanksgiving morning and wake at 10:00 to the delicious scent of roasting poultry, it means a fifth person got up at 5:00 and stood alone in the kitchen. bathing an ice-cold carcass before heaving it into the heavy roasting pan.
Things don’t easier once it’s in the oven either. Roast it breast up or breast down, wrap it in cloth or muffle it in paper, every tactic brings its consequence.
One year I set our bird on fire. A few years before that, I basted it in such a way that when I opened the oven after the usual five or six hours, it shot straight across the open door and slid into Home Plate against the table. And some few years before that, when I took my first look at a dressed bird with its neck and organs packed tidily inside it, I fainted, just as I had done faithfully in church throughout my whole long childhood.
Still, on the great day itself, few of us prove vegetarian. We eat some of that big clumsy bird, then take a walk, or watch the game, then sit down to eat some more.
I recall the moment on one Thanksgiving in my adult years when my mother and aunt arrived, the “here you go girls” of family lore.
I heard their voices before I saw them, the one light and merry, the other deeper and more ironic.
“Here they are!” I remember thinking, and felt once more like a little child of seven.
Their voices are stilled, as this Thanksgiving approaches. The faces change. The years blink by.
I stepped outside early this morning, into a day all still and misty.
As I watched, six leaves seemed to spill down together from the little oak tree across the street. But just I saw them, sadly thinking, “Goodbye then!” they changed direction, became six live birds, and took to the sky.
It felt like a message to me, and the message brought me comfort. ‘Be content where you are,’ it said. ‘Do not fear where you will one day go.’ A falling or an ascension: it depends upon your angle of vision.