Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My Thanksgiving Mount Rushmore

Thanksgiving time again. My favorite holiday, bringing together my favorite things: food, family, and football. Not to mention friends, family, and a few fingers of fermented grain mash (aka whiskey). In my family, Thanksgiving is a beloved tradition and something I always eagerly await. This year, I’ve decided to express my love of the holiday by compiling my personal Thanksgiving Mount Rushmore: a four-headed tribute to the people I think of each and every year at this time.

At the outset, I suppose it behooves me to acknowledge that even referring to Mount Rushmore is problematic, given the cultural genesis of the holiday being the peaceful and cooperative interactions of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans of Plymouth. After all, Rushmore is carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota, which are sacred to the Lakota Sioux. An 1868 treaty between the U.S. government and the Sioux gave the latter permanent rights to territory that included the Black Hills. But as early as 1874, General George A. Custer led an expedition of miners who found gold in them thar Black Hills. The U.S. government then forced the Sioux to give back that portion of their reservation (who’s the “Indian giver” now?); the dispute led to Custer’s Last Stand two years later and continues to this day.

So given that disclaimer, let me say that the first head on my Thanksgiving Mount Rushmore would be Squanto (a nickname; to his own people he was known as Tisquantum). When I was young, I took a book out of my elementary school library called Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims. I’m not sure why, but I fell in love with it. I guess I just felt so bad for the guy. The Patuxet was captured and brought to England in 1605, where he learned English. He continued to go back and forth from the Old World to the New World, usually against his will. When he finally made it back to his homeland in 1619, he learned that his people had been wiped out by an epidemic the year before. When the Pilgrims arrived, he was indeed a help to them, though other Native Americans were suspicious of his friendship with the white settlers. Some reports claim that his death in 1622 was due to poisoning by the Wampanoag.

The next head is on Rushmore already: Abraham Lincoln. It was his Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1863, in which he asked his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving,” that led most directly to the current holiday. Lincoln was not the first president to declare a day of thanksgiving (Washington declared one in 1789) but its annual observance on the last Thursday of November stuck, right up until 1939. In that year, the last Thursday also happened to be the last day of the month, and retailers were worried about a shortened Christmas shopping season. Responding to their entreaties, Franklin Roosevelt moved up Thanksgiving by one week, to the fourth Thursday, and in 1941, Congress made it official and binding. But Lincoln is still considered the father of the American Thanksgiving holiday.

The third head (and by the way, I’m going in chronological order by birth year) would belong to my mother. This was her day to shine, and she never disappointed. For years, my mother made the entire meal: turkey, stuffing, vegetables, salad, lemon meringue pies, and her famous apple pies (as many as six of those). She always made the crusts by hand, from scratch. She peeled and sliced Cortland apples, then she would mix the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. As she did this, she would walk up and down the hall, stirring and smelling, and adjusting the quantities of one or the other until it was just right to her expert nose. When the pies were in the oven, she would listen to them. Somehow, they told her when they done because she used no other method to gauge their progress.

I would go to sleep the night before Thanksgiving with the scent of fresh baked apple pie in the house, excited about the big day of feasting that would come soon. Despite my excitement, it was nice to sleep late the next morning, to be awakened by the smell of a turkey in the oven. I would get dressed, go downstairs, and watch the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. My sisters and I would hang around my father when he carved the turkey, and when he was done, we would start picking at the carcass until we’d eaten every last bit of meat off the bone. Before the meal, my father would say a few words of welcome and then we would dig in. There was always a ton of food, no matter how many guests we had. And when the apple pies came out, people just flipped. Everyone would shower my mother with compliments. After meal was over, we would sit and digest, my mother would begin cleaning and we would help – but from beginning to end my mother did the most work.

The fourth and final head on my Thanksgiving Mount Rushmore belongs to none other than Arlo Guthrie, because listening to “Alice’s Restaurant” has been a Thanksgiving tradition for me for as long as I can remember. Actually, though commonly referred to by that title, the song is actually called “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” Alice’s Restaurant is the name of the album. The song tells the true story of a Thanksgiving meal Arlo had on November 25, 1965, thanks to the generosity of his friend Alice; to pay her back, he offered to take the post-meal trash out to the dump. Finding it closed, he dumped it illegally. He was subsequently arrested and, in a delightfully ironic twist, it was due to that arrest on his record that he was declared unfit for military service during the Vietnam War. Every year, along with all my blessings, I am thankful that I can get anything I want at Alice’s Restaurant.

1 comment:

Tom Wiggin said...

Heartwarming. Happy Thanksgiving to you!