Commentary: Legends of the fall, Thanksgiving, and pie wars
By Justin Isherwood
Big families are a known human/animal instinct, species survival or something close-by. To mention, as the economy of the native improves, families surrender their largess, as there are good reasons for this.
There remains a romance to big families even when shown the beatitude of economic fecundity. I had the occasion to celebrate Thanksgiving as a solitary celebrant, it’s not a particularly satisfying event. My wife and I once celebrated Thanksgiving as a couple because of my service, we had turkey loaf, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie in a remote locale. Not a satisfying Thanksgiving.
Behaviorists are aware the psychological burden the mass-weight of Thanksgiving tradition places on individuals who have lost or misplaced their family connection. And that distinctive herd celebration. To be thus haunted by the Thanksgiving of the kind semi-civilized, agrarian natives can celebrate. Homemade to a fault, as includes the chance of food poisoning. Overflowing to a point cynical of polite standards, yet to introduce the pie wars of the Thanksgiving feast, this as they occurred in the farmhouse of my youth.
The first requisite in understanding the occasion was that front door of our farmhouse entered directly into the dining room. Despite we ate most meals at the kitchen table, when it was an en masse celebration, the event was at that dining table. Dining tables customarily come equipped for this with extra leaves to the purpose of haphazard rituals. So too our dining table, but to add our father was a competent and zealous carpenter of cabinets and tables, he adding extra leaves to that table to the extent the farmhouse dining table approximated the full perimeter of the room, with barely marginal space for the chairs. In theory a good idea, in practice a tight fit. To the end 26 adults could sit at that table at one time if in a highly intimate fashion. A proximity which has attended me ever since as one of the refined moments of both family and Thanksgiving, where I learned to dine in choreographed union with my table-mates. Enmeshed with and into and between their arms, their hips, their bowels, itches, enzymes and hormones, that table’s unique and provident density made us all Siamese twins with every other person sitting there.
That our family’s Thanksgiving was always held at the farmhouse is in part due to the charity of that dining room and its table. The farmhouse did have an over-run area where an extra table or two could be hurriedly deployed, hastily fabricated of sawhorses and planks to accommodate the wild fruits and far-wanderings of our family, cousins from outer Tasmania, a rare girlfriend willing to have such a feeling relationship with my family, a college pal, a hired man. This as was the way of the farmhouse, and its accompanying root cellar where excess could be handled by the amplitude of that root cellar when combined with its chicken yard. I continue to hold the thesis our farm’s contingent of hired men was based less on the salary paid as on the generosity of that table.
There is to this a well-known requirement of every family Thanksgiving, routinely expressed as a female requirement, of their willingness to supply the table with its sumptuous spread. Ordinarily spoken of as that pot luck thing. As works in theory except at Thanksgiving. Because the Thanksgiving meal is so decidedly orthodox, its courses are required as if by legislation to include well-known fauna and flora. In Texas this reference is to the side dish of armadillo soup. In Wisconsin this same place belongs to a corn chowder or wild asparagus soup. In Louisiana it’s a gumbo, in Maine some hash of lobster. Beyond these artistic local flavors at the table are the ritual standard bearers, the set-piece artifacts of Thanksgiving. And screw all millennials in their attempt to make Thanksgiving carb-correct which is basically un-American, un-Pilgrim and un-Wampanoag. The ordered ingredients of the Thanksgiving table are preset as any pre-med study, from basic skeletal to gastrointestinal. These the known ingredients of a true Christian, faith of our fathers, live off the land, potato cellar Thanksgiving. Experiment with food at any other occasion, not Thanksgiving. Here to honor that bird, and the potato, and green bean and do please include a verse of Hiawatha’s holy corn. Hero worship here reduced to its purest form, the green bean casserole consummated as orderly if it was one of the stations of the cross. Only to add the hubbard squash, one of the native American trinity, and a semi-ton of warm moist dinner rolls with real solid cold butter. To every place setting its generous milk glass and a wine glass big enough to offend Methodists. Personally I hold a homemade kind is required if some think this element is too stringent a rule. If only every American citizen to realize how many roadside weeds can be turned into wine, a miracle as goes one better than the New Testament parable. So much better for the ecology when it’s weeds turned to wine.
This then is Thanksgiving, in its classic form, meaning classic excess, Thanksgiving in its well-gravied, well-pickled, well-buttered largesse.
And then, and then, came the pie course, what we knew at the farmhouse as the pie war. To return to this subject next week.