Thanksgiving Pie Wars: Part 3
By Justin Isherwood
Thanksgiving at the farmhouse was required in my family, because the house was that ample, its dining room generous. To add that house was accustomed to an assortment of animals, domestic or semi-domestic, to include our extended family, cousins, nephews, soldiers of fortune, ne’r-do wells, prospectors, potato brokers, hired men, chain smoking women, and some terrifically old relics. These mostly Republicans with a few harmless Democrats scattered among, the others were the unbranded calves, ex-warriors, a deputy sheriff, that Norwegian carpenter, an Old World clocksmith, truck driver, divas of variable skills and a northwoods garage mechanic. This assembly had experienced the Great Depression in the first person, the Spanish Flu, Wars One and Two, the arrival of the motorcar, airplane, electric light, refrigerator, telephone, central heat, running water, vacuum milker, the toothbrush, sliced bread, store-bought cookies. As a kid in their presence I felt as if blood-related to history, to sit at the same table as these who had together experienced a highly condensed evolution of the human circumstance.
Such was the inertia of this familial reverence that for a kid to sit at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving, to sit amidst this cross-section of experience and history was an abiding honor. Collect between them was 500 years of human moment. In our family this coming of age transit occurred at about the same moment as a kid took over the evening milking, or could plow ten acres before breakfast and thus big enough to sit at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving.
As for the meal, described previously, it was classically herculean. Thanksgiving was the standing proof of the farm’s abundance, its bounty, its landedness. On a more capitalistic note, Thanksgiving was a way to deal with agricultural surplus in the most straightforward fashion. Eat it.
To the end the difference between mass execution and a farmhouse Thanksgiving is not all that far apart. From a clinical viewpoint we were victims of that meal, where you had to hold your own with a dinner plate to be a bona fide adult, much less a loyal member of the family.
Which is why, following this monstrosity, where the horn of plenty had dumped its ten yard equivalent, there was an intermission. If none actually died of that Thanksgiving dinner it sometimes felt like it. Explaining why the pie course was delayed, out of pity for our survival. The collective table circle duly broke off at the coffee course and wandered off to points of relief. Womenfolk, as they were then called, turned their attention to the dishes, the menfolk, similarly tilted off to their separate fates. A famous grandfather went to nap on the porch despite it was well below freezing. He snatched up a pillow and a quilt from the nearest bedroom and flopped into a death-like pose on the porch couch and drifted off into a street-drug equivalent Thanksgiving coma. The wisp of breath emanating from under the coverlet to prove he was probably still alive. Several uncles chose the porch to sit and smoke, this in the era of Camels unfiltered. Lined up on the porch lip, backs hunched over, smoking. To a man all veterans of that war. I have never seen a war memorial as fitting as those aging veterans in the collective cloud of the unfiltered Camels bearing that certain melancholic pose of the survivors. At some point in all this the deputy sheriff extracted his service revolver and we pot-shot with little effect at pumpkins a mere 50 yards away, proving his objective lesson that pistols are blame useless tools of the Second Amendment.
And then there was our father’s ploy, retiring this bulk of ripe manhood to the woodpile on the north flank of the house, where firewood was split, quartered and quartered again to fit the wood chute into the dark cellar below. These were elm blocks the size of a card table, including a selection of splitting wedges, several hickory-handled sledges that together was the best proof of manhood since knight jousting had been outlawed. The elm won out more often than not, but not for the trying, the attempt however was highly caloric. In its place, to have gone for a jog, a bit of Tai Chi would have seemed un-patriotic. An hour later this band of now sweating men reentered the house, it was pie time.