Wednesday, November 27, 2013

We Gather Together...a Thanksgiving Excerpt from Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" by Jennie A. Brownscombe
Those of us in the United States are preparing for tomorrow's All-American Holiday of Thanksgiving which falls on the fourth Thursday of each November. (Of course, like many American traditions, it probably has its roots in British and European harvest celebrations.) Where and when the First Thanksgiving was observed is up to some debate, some saying it was the 1621 Pilgrims' Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts  while others believe it was the 1619 Settlers' Thanksgiving at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia. Either way, it is a day to give thanks for all of our blessings, big and small, with many of us celebrating by eating copious amounts of food!

Today, I would like to take you back to a traditional celebration that would have been at home in turn-of-the-20th century Massachusetts by way of printing an excerpt from my novel, Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse. Here the villagers gather together to enjoy each others' company and favorite foods as the children perform a Thanksgiving pageant. 

"Freedom From Want" by Norman Rockwell
...High, clear voices were heard in the distance and we all craned our necks toward the garden from which the sound came. A line of children, from youngest to oldest, marched in single file, singing “We Gather Together” as they approached. They were dressed in Pilgrim costume, black trousers and jackets for the boys and black dresses with starched white aprons and caps for the girls. Each one carried something symbolic of the harvest—pumpkins, gourds, clusters of grapes, bowls of cranberries and raspberries and nuts—and the tallest boy, bringing up the rear, proudly bore a great platter holding an enormous, roasted turkey, its golden brown skin glistening in the autumn sunlight. 
 With great ceremony, the children set down their treasures on a table until there was a long, colorful centerpiece stretching the length of the rows of tables where sat the admiring adults. Once the young man set his turkey on one of the serving tables, the children gathered into a cluster, all eyes on the garden. They completed the last verse of their Thanksgiving hymn just as drumbeats were heard resounding from the garden entrance. Gasps of  “Ooo’s” and “Ah’s” emitted from the grown-ups as another line of children, dressed in all manner of Indian garb, began their parade toward the tables. Brown leggings and shirts for the boys, and short, brown shifts for the girls, formed the backdrop for fanciful ornaments of feathers and beads and seashells. I noticed their feet were wrapped in soft, tan cloth, secured with leather cord. Each young “Indian” carried a gift of speckled Indian corn or a fish fashioned, quite realistically, from papier-mâché. These were placed on the tables among the Pilgrims’ gifts, to the steady drumbeat of a serious-faced little boy, his skin darkened for the occasion, blue eyes startlingly bright against his new complexion. The Indians joined the Pilgrims and all sang one verse of  “Come Ye Thankful People Come” with our minister urging us all to join in.
As the voices died down, he stepped before the children and raised his hands and closed his eyes, signaling the saying of the blessing. We all bowed our heads as Rev. Harris intoned a prayer of thanks for the bounteous goodness of God and for all the blessings He had bestowed upon us, particularly the blessing of these lovely children. With “Amen’s” arising from the gathering, Mr. Buchanan instructed us to take the plates we’d brought for the occasion and line up to share in the smorgasbord.
 I’ve heard of “groaning boards” before, and I think those tables would have groaned if they’d had voices! Never have I seen such a delicious display. Rev. Harris carved the great turkey and offered up juicy slices to adjunct the rest of the food. The tables were resplendent with corn puddings, baked beans, sliced beef, chicken and turkey, roasted potatoes—both white and sweet—string beans, butter beans, cranberry sauce, greens, and an incredible assortment of desserts. I cannot begin to name them all, everything from pumpkin pies sweetened with maple syrup to buttery pound cakes, to my favorite—Jenny’s sweet potato pie. I was proud to see my pie gobbled up quickly (although Joseph gazed forlornly at the empty dish, making me promise to fix another just for him!)
 We returned to our places at the tables and joyfully dug into our heavily laden plates. There was a chorus of satisfied remarks as we dove in, with many an inquiry as to “who made this pudding,” “these beans,” “this pie,” etc. It was a glorious time of food and fellowship! I introduced Mother and Father to everyone in turn, and I could see the blossom of peace blooming on Mother’s face as she was reassured, once more, of her daughter’s well being in this “foreign” land.
Once we were completely sated, Mrs. Buchanan stood at the end of one of the tables and rang a bell for our attention.
 “Now,” she said, “to complete the day, the children will give each of you a small piece of paper and place pencils on the tables for you to share. Please write down one thing for which you are truly thankful and pass your paper to the end of the table where either an Indian or a Pilgrim is standing. Once all have been collected, Mr. Buchanan will place them in the Thanksgiving fire and their ashes will rise to heaven in a symbolic gesture of our gratitude!”
 Dutifully, we set to our task. Some quickly wrote down their blessing while others thoughtfully scratched their heads or rubbed their chins in concentration. The choice was very difficult for me as there is so much for which I am thankful. Seeing the distress of those of us trying to decide among our blessings, Mr. Buchanan rose and said, “Remember, this is just one of your blessings. Just write down whatever comes into your heads. God knows your gratitude isn’t limited to this choice!”
 I scribbled down my response and passed it down the table, playfully slapping Joseph’s hand as he tried to read it. As the slips of paper were handed to them, the children dropped them into carved-out pumpkins, stationed at the head of each row of tables. Each pumpkin, brimming with thanks, was then carried to the schoolmaster standing by a great bonfire.
 “Dear God, Father, and Provider of us all, may the fragrance of these expressions of thanksgiving fill Heaven with their sweetness and gratitude.”
 With that, Mr. Buchanan took a pumpkin from each child, in turn, and emptied the contents onto the leaping flames.
 “Looks kind of pagan to me,” I heard Sam’s raspy whisper.
 “Shh!” Esther scolded.
 A titter of laughter rippled through the gathering, threatening to break the mood so skillfully cast by the dramatic Mr. Buchanan. When the last thankful notes sent smoke spiraling up toward the heavens, the schoolmaster turned and pronounced, “A Happy Thanksgiving to us all!”...

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


("The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe : This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.)

No comments: