Monday, November 28, 2011

after the feast

after the feast, that day of thankfulness for life and loved ones, i looked back at thursday's hours and was reminded of short days and long nights, of endings and beginnings, of the cycle of seasons and the rapidity of decades.

was it really so long ago—important dates: 1621 for the religious observance, later in the 17th century for the yearly september feasts offering thanks for successful harvests, 1941 for the designation of the official thanksgiving holiday, the last thursday in november—or something like it if you need more facts—when the pilgrims ate their thanksgiving feast of fish, deer, foul, squash, berries and nuts on long tables outdoors in a plimoth clearing, and invited about 90 wampanoag indian friends to be their guests (i've been told the wampanoags brought the venison)?

can you see them in a grassy field, english folks of both sexes adorned with fresh, white collars, the men wearing tall black hats, the women in black or white caps, and their native guests in buckskin, beads and feathers?

was it really so long ago when i was a little girl? back then it was mostly family around my parent's thanksgiving table, but occasionally friends would gather with us, too. this year at our house, in addition to family, we had a friend and business associate from china as our thanksgiving guest.

my mother was an excellent cook; the cooking would begin on tuesday and everything was made from scratch. what i remember most were her desserts—pies and cakes—and her mashed potatoes and gravy. i see her stirring and measuring and adjusting flavors, adding a pinch of this or that. when mum started to become ill, her memory fading, her fingers stiffening, i asked her to show me how she made her gravy so that we would always be able to have gravy the way memi (what my children call their grandmother) made it. she laughed and told me there was no recipe, or more precisely, there was no exact recipe, only the ever-so-slightly-changing variation of a recipe that came out of her head each thanksgiving.

she stood patiently beside me and recited her gravy process, and as we hovered over a saucepan together, mum stirring with a wooden spoon, me scribbling notes with a pen, we came up with a wonderful version (perhaps it's the one from thanksgiving 1973?) of her gravy. it was on the table last thursday.

this year before dinner was ready i suggested that maybe one day we should use picnic tables in the yard and eat outside like the pilgrims at that first thanksgiving feast. (had we done so this thanksgiving we would have been setting up our tables in a muffled winter wonderland surrounded by heavy snow which weighed the pine branches down, and hauling platters of food as we trudged through 8 inches of the white stuff which had surprised us the day before.) not one person enthusiastically embraced the idea; alas, no pilgrim types in this group.

every year we prepare for days and the food is gobbled up in a flash.

time burns down and disappears like the candle tapers on the table.

and speaking of burning down, the day ended with a bit of excitement. i opened the chimney flue and lit a fire in the living room fireplace after we finished our meal—well, that is, i thought i had opened the flue. (just let me add i have been lighting fires in the fireplace for 30 years and this is the first time i have had flue issues.) the fire was burning nicely but after 5 minutes the room began to smell like woodsmoke, we could see some smoke above in the loft, and our eyes started to sting. i could have sworn the flue was fully open, but obviously it was only partially open.

i reached into the fireplace with a poker and pulled the lever forward. the smokey wisps stopped sneaking out of the firebox and were sucked up the chimney. we had to vacate the room, open the windows, and sit in the family room. no damage occurred but it still smells a bit like a smokehouse—though not at all unpleasant—as if hams ought to be hanging and curing from the beams.

i promptly had some grey goose to calm my nerves.

i'm glad to report the rest of the evening passed without incident.

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