Growing up, I did not associate Thanksgiving with books and reading. It was all about the food. I’m not even sure that much thanks was given other than the usual prayer before the meal.
Since we usually headed up to my grandparents’ home in Osawatomie on that Thursday morning, my sister and I would invariably sing, “Over the river and through the woods...” even though there were no woods, rarely any drifted snow, and we didn’t cross the Marais de Cygnes River until we were at the city limits. Once we were out of the car, preparation for the feast went into high gear.
I can still picture my grandmother’s kitchen, with all the pots and pans on the big, old-fashioned stove, as potatoes waited to be mashed, a variety of vegetables boiled away, and gravy was stirred while the turkey and dressing stayed warm in the oven. My grandmother cooked like she was feeding a threshing crew—my brother-in-law said he hadn’t seen a “groaning board” until his first holiday meal with our family. Since Grandma’s birthday always fell near Thanksgiving, our dessert was angel food cake, though I have no doubt there were a couple of pies waiting in the wings. Once we were finished, we moved on to the cleaning and packaging up leftovers, most of which went on the large back porch. On top of a dresser, not in a refrigerator. Late November was always cold back in those days but I’m still surprised we didn’t end up with some type of food poisoning since the turkey would just sit on the table for us to pull a piece off if we found ourselves craving a bit more before it, too, went to the back porch.
That last memory brings to mind a scene in one of the few books that references a modern-day Thanksgiving dinner, Anne Tyler’s “The Accidental Tourist”, truly a nightmare scenario to anyone hosting their family and friends (but it made me laugh). There just aren’t many books set during the Thanksgiving holidays and those that are tend to be a bit depressing. One of the more famous ones comes from Truman Capote, “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, and it’s often combined with “A Christmas Memory”. But once you’re past the picture book stage, there’s just not many books about Thanksgiving.
However, early American poets wrote of this holiday long before it became little more than a prelude to Christmas shopping. James Greenleaf Whittier authored “The Pumpkin” and James Whitcomb Riley gave us “Thanksgiving”. But the one I remember—probably from my father—is this classic by Eugene Field:
Pies of pumpkin, apple, mince.
Jams and jellies, peach and quince.
Purple grapes and apples red.
Cakes and nuts and gingerbread —
Turkey! Oh, a great big fellow!
Fruits all ripe and rich and mellow.
Everything that's nice to eat,
More than I can now repeat —
Lots and lots of jolly fun,
Games to play and races run,
All as happy as can be —
For this happiness you can see
We must thank the One who gave
All the good things that we have;
That is why we keep the day
Set aside, our mothers say.
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