I love Thanksgiving.
Uncomplicated by religious affiliation or gift-giving, Thanksgiving unites everyone in four of life’s essentials: food, family, friendship and football. Best of all, though, is the emphasis on gratitude. No matter where we are in the vicissitudes of life, there is always reason to be thankful. Too often our minds are consumed by those things which we do not have. We forget how lucky we are. Many thanks go out to today’s contributors, whose shared stories are something to be grateful for.
Cindy’s story tells of a unique backwoods Thanksgiving tradition:
My father’s entire extended family always traveled to a remote camp in Lee that had no power, and for some time no gas (we used kerosene lamps). My grandmother cooked Thanksgiving dinner on a wood cookstove and the camp was warmed with another wood stove and a fireplace.
This was a great adventure for us “kids” and we had a chance to play with cousins we didn’t see much for most of the year. We always stayed until Sunday, gathered princess pine for wreath making, played cards, hiked up Hedgehog Mountain, sat by the fire and swapped tall tales (always popular!). When we were younger — before teen years — we would put on a Thanksgiving play for the adults. The men always went hunting.
This journey up to “No. 3” (the name of the pond) continued until the mid-’80s. I don’t remember why it petered out — aging and expanding families moving apart, I guess.
Since the back-to-the-earth movement of the ’70s, heating with wood in a cabin with no electricity seems less exotic, but when we were growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, this was somewhat of a novelty and created a really special and memorable Thanksgiving tradition — I still miss it.
Heather’s story is about Mainers who got together out of state for an unusual new Thanksgiving tradition — Thanks-O-Ween:
While living in New York a few years ago, I hosted my first Thanksgiving feast and simultaneously created a hybrid holiday. My sister Jen and her family were coming down from Mount Desert Island and we would be joined by a couple of my closest friends who were also displaced Mainers living in New York.
I was nervous about cooking for so many people, but mostly I was concerned about what to wear and what to make everyone else wear. I issued an edict: Everyone must dress very nicely — no turtlenecks and jeans. No sports jerseys.
My sister and I discussed the dress code frequently, and every time it grew a little grander. Eventually we settled on Jen wearing her wedding dress and me a black-tie gown.
Then it started to feel boring, just not… festive enough.
We would wear Halloween costumes! Thanks-O-Ween was born.
There was Snow White basting the turkey. Homemade cranberry sauce glistened next to a dead prom queen. A gruesome ghoul offered up slices of apple and pumpkin pie while a pirate and an Egyptian pharaoh played charades.
Thanks-O-Ween is a superior holiday in every way. Give it a try.
Our last two contributions are tales of warm hospitality in unexpected places. Trisha’s story:
Thanksgiving 2004 was our third in Maine since retiring here. We had many happy memories of Thanksgiving holidays with family, but were looking forward to a quiet day in our new home. My husband had been increasingly sick for over two months, so travel was out of the question.
On Thanksgiving morning he announced that he was having irregular heartbeats. He wanted to go to the emergency room to have it checked out, and he insisted on driving himself. We had a few words over that, but I let him go, not wanting to create any more stress on his heart.
Later he called — he was being admitted and I better come. When I got to Eastern Maine Medical Center, he was still in the ER waiting for a bed. Our quiet day at home had become a little lonely and sad. Then some very kind nurses asked if we had eaten Thanksgiving dinner.
Next thing we knew, there was a full Thanksgiving meal for two set up on the bedside table. We ate one of the best-tasting dinners ever. Thanks to their thoughtfulness, it is one Thanksgiving where we truly counted our blessings, among them our good fortune to live in a caring place.
My first Thanksgiving at University of Maine in grad school, I was cat sitting and missing my family 1,000 miles away. There was a knock on the door and Mimi Perry, a department secretary, bustled in with a Thanksgiving dinner complete with pie. She left her own home and family to make sure a student didn’t miss out.
It meant the world to me. It was the first of so many acts of kindness from Mimi over the years until we lost her to cancer. To me she epitomizes “Maine: The Way Life Should Be” — people going out of their way to help others out of the goodness of their hearts.
Here are my own Thanksgiving wishes in verse:
A happy day of thanks to all
for everything that’s good:
for things that fly and swim and crawl,
for soil and stone and wood;
for water in its every form
without which all would die,
likewise for daylight from the warm
bright sun that fills the sky.
Give thanks for yellow, red and blue
and all the color wheel,
for ears to hear and eyes to view,
for taste and smell and feel;
for work that’s meaningful to do
with hands or heart or mind,
for every loving act that grew
from acts equally kind.
Let’s even give a nod of thanks
to life’s sad sister death.
Without that sister’s painful pranks
there’d be no more new breath.
For every chance we find to sit
with even one companion
and share some food and talk a bit
and make the meal a grand one,
give thanks to care and thanks to share
a moment with a friend.
The greatest thing is not so rare:
It’s love, that’s all. The end.
Robin Clifford Wood is always thankful for feedback and suggestions. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Thanksgiving!