Search Search Google
Volume 16, Issue 47 - November 20 - November 26, 2008
Home \\ This Week's Features \\ Classifieds \\ Dining Guide \\ Home & Garden Guide \\ Editorial \\ Letters to the Editor \\ Archives \\ Distribution Locations

Another Season for Thanks

What more could one ask for?

There’s naught better than eel.
–Pilgrim Stephen Fuller at the first Thanksgiving,
as written by Joan Anderson in the First Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving has always been among the most enjoyable days of the year, and not just for the stuffing of the turkey and my appetite. Being from New England where it all began, I grew up fascinated with the stories of the Indians and Pilgrims joining in a feast at not too distant Plymouth.

My mind drew images: The bronze and robust feathered chief arriving with a wild turkey held high, the welcoming high-hatted colonist, with blunderbuss in hand, ready to accept it, then the big feast and festivities.

Oh, how I would have liked to be at the birth of such a tradition. Now I have learned that a few of my ancestors dined and probably danced with the Indians at that feast.

Within the past decade, my brother John, professor emeritus at the University of Utah and the family’s chief genealogist, has uncovered evidence that among those who came here on the Mayflower was Edward Fuller.

If Edward was among the half who didn’t make it through that first year of hardship to join in the shindig following the first harvest on their new land, his son Samuel did. Sam would have been 12; one of his descendants was Hawley Harvey Crippen, whose infamy is due to the murder of at least one wife, whom he cut up and buried in his cellar after he moved to London, then his subsequent historic arrest in Canada via use for the first time (1910) of ship-to-shore telegraphic communications. But, that’s another story.

However, at Thanksgiving time, might I mention that one of Hawley’s kin had the perfect name for the holiday. She was named Thankful.

Naught Better than Eel?

Learning that an ancestor was at the big spread with Gov. William Bradford, Capt. Myles Standish, John Alden, Massasoit and Squanto has only intensified my interest in the occasion that finally became a national holiday in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln was president.

But amidst all the flush of learning of the Burton’s association there’s one nagging question: Would I want to have dined at a table where it was said There’s naught better than eel?

Eel! I was a poor New England country kid of the Great Depression. We ate whatever was placed before us. No use complaining, and no substitutes. What Mother cooked was the meal: Eat it or go hungry. I went hungry when tripe, blood sausage and, above all, eel were on the table.

Still, I look back at that first Thanksgiving and wonder what it would have like being there — had I not been ordered to clean my plate of eel.

The Thanksgiving Feast

Winter was coming, after a year of exceptional hardships. Back in England, farmers had stored their crops. Here, the Pilgrims were about to do the same. Thanks to Squanto, who had aided the newcomers in agricultural pursuits, there was a bounty to be stored for this winter. From the fields, forests and waters, there were fish and game, which the Pilgrims were fast learning to harvest.

The Pilgrims were mighty religious. Did this not call for a thank you to God, who made it all possible? Why not a day of Thanksgiving? So it became.

Could there have been then or now a better name for an annual holiday to give thanks, not just for food in the larder but for families and close friends to gather ’round a table for camaraderie and to bless what they have, whether it be much or little?

You might have had to be around in the times of the Pilgrims or the Great Depression to fully appreciate what I’m getting at. I still vividly recall how Mother mixed solemnity with the joy of family feasting to make Thanksgiving an occasion. On the morning and early afternoon of the holiday, younger brother John and I might have to cut wood to keep the house warm in the coming winter, but we did so with little complaint.

While sawing and chopping, we knew sisters Ruth, Lorna and Ticy were with Mother in the kitchen, from which our biggest and most enjoyable meal of the year would come. There were so many favorites, some on the menu of the first Thanksgiving. We couldn’t afford turkey, but a couple of plump chickens were filled with a seasoned, moist bread stuffing. Cranberry sauce was surely of the type the Pilgrims had: whole berries sweetened just enough to embellish the full flavor of the fruit.

Mashed potatoes with real butter and gravy via the chicken drippings was among my favorites, but I also developed a strong appreciation that lasts to this day for boiled onions thickened a bit by corn starch and spiced. The corn, beets, turnips and beans, like the potatoes and onions, came from the garden. Only on Thanksgiving did John and I forgive all the summer hours we had spent weeding and hoeing.

Like our ancestors, we were celebrating, giving thanks for the harvest, led by Mother — who always said Grace before the feast began. It always ended up with squash pie, a treat perhaps only a New Englander can understand. Pumpkin pie I like, but until relocating in Maryland 52 years ago, I thought winter squash pie was the only way to go: Pumpkins were for Jack-o-lanterns and to feed cows. Squash was for soups, pies and often substituted for or accompanied mashed potatoes.

Back then, we weren’t like contemporary Marylanders. There was no encore of sandwiches, cranberry sauce, pie and coffee several hours after the big feast. We had stuffed ourselves as full of the chicken as the chicken was with the dressing the first time around. So my siblings and I — maybe after a small piece of squash pie —lounged, delighted that on the morrow there would be no school. To top that off, there would be the leftovers for dinner and supper.

Sufficient Reason for Thanks

The Pilgrims and the Indians celebrated for three full days of eating, dancing, games and other festivities. After all, they had to spend all the appreciation of surviving the first trying year in the new homeland. Now, with winter coming on, there was food to carry them through.

I guess that deep within me, there’s always that same deep appreciation for Thanksgiving. The past year hasn’t always been the best, but we’ve made it. There are sufficient resources for the coming winter — and we’re all here and together.

What more could one ask for? Maybe another slice of squash pie. Enough said.


© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.