But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand-half amased at this poore peoples presente condition; and so I thinke will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembred by that which wente before), they now had not friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure. . . . And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that cuntrie know them to be sharp and violent, and subjecte to cruell and feirce stormes, deangerous to travill to known places, much more to serch an unknown coast. Besids, what could they see but a hidious and desolate wildernes, full of wild beasts and willd men? And what multituds ther might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to the tope of Pisgah, to vew from this willdernes a more goodly cuntrie to feed their hops; for-which way soever they turnd their eys (save upward to the heavens) they could have litle solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and the whole countrie, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage heiw. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation)
I wake up before dawn, which is not early these days, and l feel the solid warmth of the man I love, in quiet sleep beside me. I burrow down deeper under the duvet, watching the light turn from dark blue to gray to a pale blue tinged with gold and pink. A flock of sparrow streams across the sky; my house begins to stir. The dog, despairing of rousting me, climbs into bed, turns twice, curls into a ball, his snout resting on my hip. A little later, the small boy crawls into the middle of us all and sings a half dozen variations on itsy-bitsy spider. I linger a little longer in this tangle of bones and hearts.
In 2. or 3. moneths tune halfe of their company dyed, espetialy in Jan: and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvie and other diseases, which this long vioage and their inacomodate condition had brought upon them; so as ther dyed some times 2. or 3. of a day, in the fore- said tune; that of 100. and odd persons, scarce 50. remained. And of these in the time of most distres, ther was but 6. or 7. sound persons, who, to their great comendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toyle and hazard of their owne health, fetched them woode, made them fires, drest them meat, made their beads, washed their lothsome cloaths, cloathed and uncloathed them; in a word, did all the homly and necessarie offices for them which dainty and quesie stomacks cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cherfully, without any grudging in the least, shewing herein their true love unto their freinds and bretheren. A rare example and worthy to be remembred. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation)
There is enough sun today that we can go out to work on tidying the yard and garden, all the chores left undone after the last warm days of autumn. We are all happy to be outside, despite the chill in the air. When the wind drops entirely, I stop my raking and turn my face up toward the sun, marveling again, yet again, how Michigan has come to be my home.
Our harvest being gotten in our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie. (Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation)
Repetition and variation, the changing of ritual by small degrees, my forty-six Thanksgiving ranging back in a long line to a time before memory. The year we deconstructed the turkey before we cooked it. The year in my sister’s New York apartment when the turkey went bad and we dined on sides and sliced turkey from the corner deli. Thanksgivings abroad in expat apartments with too much bad red wine and the accidental camaraderie that comes of being strangers together. The Thanksgiving twenty-five years ago that was the last day I saw my grandfather alive. The year my family switched from Parker House to crescent rolls. The Thanksgiving I cooked for my then-husband’s extended family and whatever friends we could draw in. We must have been thirty people stretched across my small house. Not so many less than what was left after that first hard winter in Massachusetts. We are all strangers to each other now, but in memory I still hold that circle of love and friendship intact and entire. The Thanksgiving we shared with my husband’s ex-wife and her new husband, our love of our shared child making common cause. The Thanksgiving my extended family passed around the Norwalk virus and a few days later I discovered that inside me fluttered that small mass of cells that would become Nick.
They begane now to- gather in the small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, and bass, and other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All the sommer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, etc. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not famed, but true reports. (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation)
This year the change is to smoke the turkey. It’s cooking now. I’ve made cranberry sauce and homemade crackers and started the pear cobbler and sorted out the vegetables. In a little while, Naomi will come over and Nick will wake up from his nap, and there will a walk (a long one, the dog hopes) and then, as it grows dark, we’ll sit down together to this year’s small gathering. But with us will be the great crowd of those who have shared our tables and our lives through all the years we’ve lived, and even as we breathe, John and I become the ghosts our children will always have with them.
Although it be not always so plentiful with us, we are so far from want.
We do not say grace, but some days we live in it.