Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Vol 38 Issue 23 • Nov. 25, 08 - Winter 09
now in our 37th season

Joys of Thanksgiving

by Robert P. Barsanti

For the last twenty years, I have raced to Thanksgiving.  These days, I load up the car and race for that last ferryboat to bring me back. When I was younger and teaching on-island, I taught my way through a pointless half day Wednesday, then sprinted for the noon ferry with luggage, Portugese bread, and scallops. Home is where you bring the food.

In my youth, I raced to Wakefield where we hosted the family Thanksgiving.  My cousins drove up from Brookfield, Connecticut in a massive green Country Squire on that Wednesday and stayed in my grandparent’s house.  Raised in the ivory anxiety of the lace curtain Irish, my mother insisted we scrub the house of its rind of grime and apathy.  I was assigned the baseboards, the handrails, and the bathrooms.  Her sister, her mother, her brother and God knows who else would check for cleanliness behind the bowl and along the walls.  And it better be clean.

For my father, Thanksgiving centered on the Wakefield/Melrose football game that he had once starred in.  He left the house early to make inedible pancakes with his Kiwanis brothers, then he and us boys would walk up the hill to Landrigan Field.  We sat in the bleachers or, later, stood in the drizzle while the game ricocheted in front of us and he shook hands.  In high school, I played in three of those games and lost each and every one. 

When we returned to the house, my Aunt and her kids had arrived.  Relish dishes of black and Spanish olives dotted the tables. Cashews bloomed amid the mixed nuts.  When my grandparents finally arrived, the clam chowder was served from the crockpot and we stood in the family room, sipping. 

At much urging, we moved into the living room for dinner.  An adult table stood at one end and including my older cousin Jimmy. The children’s tables lined up behind it with a peanut gallery of food jokes and “vulgarity.” One of my cousins, who was closer to God than I was by way of Catholic school, gave the blessing.  My father poured Asti Spumante for the adults and gave a toast that would make Pumblechook proud.

Then the meal fell in a torrent.  Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, squash, turnip, green bean casserole, Grammie’s cranberry sauce, creamed onions, sausage stuffing, plain stuffing, gravy, turkey (baked to a fine Irish solidity) jello mold, “Town Line” dinner rolls, Coke, Molson beer, milk, and Salada Tea.  Dessert waited on a sideboard like a thunderhead: apple pie, mincemeat pie, pecan pie, untouched but always created pumpkin pie, plum pudding, and the remains of an applesauce cake (for snacking). 

And hard sauce. My mother loved hard sauce. She made it only for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It sat in a Waterford bowl the size of a half-pumpkin.  She would serve it with an ice cream scoop and place a generous dollop on top of her pecan pie.  Now, I see that a mixture of butter, confectioners sugar and bourbon may not be the healthiest way to finish of a huge meal.  But we loved it then.  The bowl would be empty by nightfall.

Afterwards, we would loll about.  As children, we watched the Godspell cast sing on the Mayflower II before Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang.  As teens, we would play marathon games of Monopoly that ended with hurt feelings, stolen money, and flying hotels.  Then, once we had driver’s licenses, we went to the movies.  Then we went into Kenmore Square.

It’s gone.

The people.  The dishes.  The napkins.  The jokes. The hard sauce.  All gone. It ebbed in dribs and drabs, as the deaths and the divorces blew through and the yard sales and the moving vans drained away.  Now, thirty years later, little remains but photos and places at the table. Only my father still stands on that side of the shore.

I will never again eat the hard sauce of his Thanksgivings.  My family has atomized; they can no longer attend the table. He was able to look down a long line of parents and children, stuffing and vegetables, lift the glass and thank God for what he had.  Not I.

So it goes.

These days my horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh onto the ferry and across the Sound.  The last of the leaves have fallen and stuck themselves onto the brick sidewalks.  The Christmas trees have begun their vigil on Main Street. They watch more and more darkened windows and empty stores with fading “Sale” signs.  Overhead, the gray ceiling races southwest on another Canadian cold front. 

The sky spreads wider on Bartlett Farm Road.  The glacial flat eases into the Atlantic, covered with the tan, dead grass and a lone family of whipped black pines.   A line of ducks beat into the wind before us.  Inside the car, my boys and I laughed at each puddle we broached and at each tipping dip in the road.  At the end, the ocean that had lifted the surfboards and bellies of August beat the shore insensate.  We turned back.

Later, we swam at the high school pool.  The water was colder than usual, as the schools economized.  The boys didn’t have their goggles, but they could still do cannonballs in the deep end, splash water at each other, and create a new game of Batman Tag.  With red eyes, we warmed under the showers and dressed quickly in the locker room. The fog had smothered the island while we were inside.  We ran to the car in the cold mist, and went to dinner at Sophie T’s.

The three of us attend the long table at the end, with a still too hot cheese pizza before us. One boy read his Archie comic for the thirtieth time.  The other tried to make his Webkinz Husky nibble at the crust. 

It was not my father’s Thanksgiving.  Nor my grandfather’s, but it was mine.

We are stupid people. We remember the wealth in the past and curse the poverty of the present. We mutter and grumble and search for the extinct hard sauce and the empty Asti bottles as we stumble backwards through the years. Until we fall over the kids playing behind us.  With a thump, we see the riches at our hands and offer thanks. 

Spirit, we thank you for this food.
For rest and home and all things good.
For wind and rain and fog above.
But most of all for those we love.

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