A QUIET THANKSGIVING IN SARANAC LAKE

Is it still Thanksgiving if you don’t sit down to a turkey dinner with friends and family, and watch a football game, and that sort of thing?  Yes of course, but…

Diary entry for the day after Thanksgiving, 2005.

Ann and I enjoyed a fine day notable for the absence of any urge to act according to holiday expectations ─ just the two of us, Baby Kitty, and resident spirits who, in observance of the occasion, infused the old house with an arresting sense of equanimity. 

Thanks to the microwave, it didn’t matter if every dish was ready to serve at the same time.  It didn’t matter when we went to the table.  And we could be as peculiar as we in fact are regarding the holiday meal. 

We enjoyed quiet and music with a level of focus that rarely happens when there’s a crowd in the kitchen.  (Except after someone has died, a crowd usually entails what my mother disdained as “commotion.”)  We blessed the food by saying the Venite without worrying whether we might be causing discomfort to the druids and freethinkers among us.

Wouldn’t want to do Thanksgiving this way every year, but now and then it’s quite satisfying.  It surely was yesterday.

For the first hour or so of the day, I wrestled with the food processor while Ann was thankfully enjoying some extra sleep.  Around the middle of the morning, she – displaying a touch of superiority inappropriate for Thanksgiving Day – showed me where the on/off switch was, and I milled the wheat berries that had been soaking for a day or so and got some bread going that turned out very well.  Soy, brewer’s yeast, molasses, whole wheat flour in addition to the berries.  One round, free-form loaf that stood up nice and high instead of flattening out like a cow pie, the way my loaves sometimes do.  [Except for meringues ─ white ones, not brown ─ I don’t like to eat things that are shaped like cow pies.]  Got another good looking loaf using the bread basket.  Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.  The new commercial-style oven seemed to have made a difference. 

While I was making the bread, Ann started on entrées.  Cranberries.  Chard in bechamel sauce.  Candied sweet potatoes.  Pearl onions.  Corn bread pudding.  Garlic mashed potatoes.  Sautéed Brussels sprouts.  An apple crisp for dessert.  

[There was a time when Thanksgiving dinner without turkey was not to my liking.  People change.  In 2005 Ann was a vegetarian, and I was moving in that direction.  Two years ago, we both adopted straight-up veganism.  We did so with gusto and also with the meet-and-right self-righteousness that settles on people who commit to optimizing their health and saving their planet.  I’ll admit, however, that if I were to find myself at a traditional table today, I’d elbow the children out of the way, so I could be first in line for a drumstick.  Not Ann, though.  She’s not eaten meat in 37 years.  Back to 2005 ─ ]

When the bread was out of the oven, Ann took a break, and we walked through the cemetery out back, made our way to Moody Pond, and circled it a couple of times at a pretty good pace.   

While we were out, the weather began turning to true winter.  The ominous gray sky that had been present since first light delivered on its promise.  A light rain segued into snow, the wind picked up, and by the time we got back home, the temperature had dropped from a disquieting high of 56 to a reassuring 35.  It continued dropping through the rest of the day and evening.

We finished making dinner, listening to music as we did and joining a pilgrim choir in singing “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing. 

I made the inaugural fire in the new Franklin fireplace in the smaller dining room, which had been the summer kitchen during the cure cottage years. 

Ann’s father would always make Manhattans on Thanksgiving, and even though early afternoon was too late in the day to replicate the experience accurately, I honored his memory by following his example.  It was the least I could do for that good man. 

We sat by the fire and made phone calls to family and friends, learning therefrom about weather conditions in many parts of the country.  It seems to be a law of nature ─ like gravity or the speed of light ─ that a long distance call on a major holiday begins with an exchange of weather information.  It’s as if national weather reports do not exist.

And then it was time to eat.

 It was just about dusk, so I guess it must have been around 4:00.  We hadn’t considered when we would go to the table.  “When we get hungry” had seemed like the right time, and it was. 

The annual rehearsal of blessings that had bubbled up intermittently throughout the day, reached a crescendo as we indulged in after-dinner cheese.  [If God wanted me to be especially thankful today, veganism would somehow include cheese.]   

We moved to the parlor and made a bigger fire there and looking out the bow windows monitored the trees being blown about by icy, wind-driven snow. 

It was a fine, peaceful celebration of a day.  Didn’t have to clean up a greasy roasting pan.  Didn’t ever get in a hurry.  A whole day of living in the moment.  Sound asleep by 9:30. 

Baby Kitty observed the holiday with a virtuoso performance of catness.  Spent most of the day sleeping by one fire then the other twisted in a ball that was perfectly expressive of thankfulness, brought a trophy mouse up to our bedroom during the night, tortured it for a while, then ate everything but the head and tail.  She seemed annoyed when I disposed of the remains.  It seems that cats, too, like Thanksgiving leftovers.

 

That was eight years ago.  We expect to spend today in much the same way ─ quietly, at one with the old house, and marking the arrival of winter –  the two of us, Baby Kitty, and resident spirits. 

Next year, we’ll return to Norman Rockwell style.  And just to be polite, I’ll have a drumstick.  Giblet gravy, too.  Maybe a little Stilton.          

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You can listen to short Thanksgiving commentaries broadcast on North Country Public Radio in the past by clicking on the URLs below.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving?  Not This Time.  www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/2119/20011128/a-vegetarian-thanksgiving.         

Resident Angels Join Us For Turkey.  www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/3703/20031127/commentary-paul-willcott-s-thanks

 

Signed copies of  A Franklin Manor Christmas are available from Historic Saranac Lake.  This two-hanky, deep-snow Christmas story of despair versus hope is good company on a winter evening and a gift your friends and family will treasure.                                            

Click HERE to order the book and to read about Saranac Lake and cure cottages.

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