Friday, November 26, 2010

My Thanksgivings Of Yore

My formative memories of Thanksgiving are a true Rockwellian version of the holiday: My (paternal) grandparent's stately old farmhouse nestled in a small offshoot of the Hudson valley 30 miles south of Albany, surrounded by a great green lawn and maple trees still speckled with brown marcescent autumn leaves, tapped and hung with buckets for syrup. Outdoors, there were the barns, riding on the tractors (one red and one gray, which I preferred), petting the black Angus... the giant pond too cold for swimming, but good for throwing pebbles and floating handfuls of grass... the mysterious mazy hayloft... the banks of the Kinderhook River... the long empty dirt road called Kinderhook Lane leading back along the river through the forest to the town of Brainard. It's all still there of course.

Inside, the rustic den decorated by my grandfather's hunting victories was filled with the glow of football on the TV, the sound of my father and uncle talking some grown-up subject, the smell of my grandfather's cigar as he sat and played some hundred-year-old folk song on his Hammond... Joplin featured prominently. I'd sit on the floor and watch his left gray sock bounce around on the bass pedals and his right gray sock work a crescendo on the giant volume pedal.

In the kitchen, my Grandmother would march back and forth from various appliances, head down, moving with a certainty and inevitability surprising for her small size. She was always talking to somebody in the kitchen as she cooked... but her eyes were always on what she was doing. She was far too purposeful in the kitchen to actually take the time to look at people.

The house had two upstairs: One still used, the other an apartment that served as the kids' play area. There was a long-unused door behind the beds that none of us ever tried to open. There were some baby's toys there that we tried to convert to more-adult play activities. There was a little white closet with a big sunny window behind the staircase where we could spend afternoons chasing / capturing / teasing the black flies that always show up in late Autumn in upstate New York.

Everything in the house just seemed to be from a time when Pilgrims and Indians lived nearby.

All the expansion leaves were put into the already-large dining room table and an accompanying card table was set up for us kids. A giant centerpiece of fall vegetables flanked by a dozen candles was on the main table, and every place setting had a dozen eating utensils, a green napkin in a silver ring, and a big red goblet. We kids got our own 2-pronged candelabra, in the flames of which my cousin Andy would stick his fingers (and encourage the rest of us to try) in a little game of pain tolerance.

Then of course came the food: All of the dishes, right and proper, perfectly done as such memories ought to be. To this day I really think I ate more then, as a young boy, than I eat now at my adult Thanksgivings. Pumpkin and apple pies were always the finishing touch, usually eaten in the grand living room in front of the fireplace. (I loved playing with the bellows: it made a neat whistling sound as I pumped.)

After that, came the goodbyes as the cousins all bundled up, and were led out through the back door to the cars, lights on, warming up in the chill night. An early winter breeze coming through the door would make me long for my pajamas and one of the warm beds upstairs in my aunt's old bedroom... the smell of mothballs from the closet there is still fresh in my memory.


K said...

Ahhhhh.... some of the BEST memories in LIFE, eh Jil!!!! Those are the things that subtly form us into the pile of cosmic dust we are... Thanks for the heartfelt trip down memory lane.


Anonymous said...

AAAWWW!!! How Typical,typical,typical..Memory lane has bowls of cherries on it,NICE! T-day in Massachussetts 35 yrs. ago.It would be even nicer and even more typical if the kids in the States had the same opportunities those that remember things like this did.But they dont and they wont.the GOP(greedy Old People)have seen to that and will deserve the treatment they get when they get to the nursing home,forgotten by fame,family and a worthless fortune and are taken oh so good care of by the youngsters whose futures they prevented,bankrupted and ruined.Maybe not so nice then.

Jungle Jil said...

Anon 6:28: Uh... okay. Your prescription has obviously run out. That's alright. Deep breaths now. Remember, Xanax is our friend.

Anonymous said...

B-B-But my hands wont stop shaking...the pharmacies closed for the big cat had puppies and mary Tyler wants,er,MORE...YIKES...just kiddin!!!,lol