"Thanksgiving at the Big House"
It is Thanksgiving dinner at the Big House, and the table is crowded with family and hired men. Jackie perches on a stool at one corner. Grampa has just finished the long Thanksgiving blessing. In the pause after his "Amen," as everyone is looking up from being solemn and thankful, Grampa adds a postscript.
"It gives me great satisfaction to look upon this table," he exclaims. "Do you know that everything for our Thanksgiving dinner has been grown on this farm?"
"Why, that's so, Wesson," says Grama.
Grampa beams, laughing silently, while everyone looks around and begins pointing and enumerating. Jackie looks around, too.
Dominating the table are the Thanksgiving chickens, sharing a huge platter, three of them, golden brown and crackling, with steam escaping from a tender breast where Grama's fork has pierced. Because of Grampa's words, Jackie sees the food and its source at the same time. It's more than a double exposure, however; it's a series of pictures in such quick succession that they seem to be seen all at once, with sounds and smells and feelings rolled in.
She sees the hens as chicks, adorable fluffy balls; as gawky, half-feathered younglings; as grown hens purling and prowling around the woodpile by the Big House kitchen door and racing when she comes with scraps; as laying hens sitting sharp-eyed and sharp-beaked in the box nests in the hen house, herself reaching cautiously under a puffed bosom to ease out an egg. She sees the chopping block and a headless chicken running crazily, like a balloon blown up and let go. She sees Grama plucking and singeing and pulling out all the insides, setting aside the heart and liver for giblet gravy, and with one swift stroke cutting open the gizzard to remove the gravel. She remembers the time she stood in amazement, her eyes scarcely above the marble tabletop, as Grama pulled shell-less, yellow yolks out of a chicken, a whole sequence of them, starting with almost usual size and then gradually smaller and smaller, till there was a final itty-bitty round yolk not as big as a teardrop. And at her request, Grama gathered up those never-to-be-laid eggs, down to the tiniest, and poached them for her breakfast.
And then, all the vegetables! The golden mountain of Hubbard squash, with a peak of snowy mashed potato beside it, both with boulders of butter melting down their sides; the tureen of creamed onions; the sliced carrots swimming in cream and butter; the cucumber pickles; the cabbage slaw; the bowl of stewed tomatoes. She sees, superimposed, the garden in all its seasons: the long row of feathery carrot tops; the tangled masses of squash and cucumber and pumpkin vines, with their gaudy flowers; the rough-leaved potato plants spattered with the yellow-striped potato bugs she loathes to pick off but is sometimes ordered to.
Strawberry jam and ruby-red currant jelly share a divided dish; she sees the strawberry beds with their glimpses of red and, at the edge of the garden, the hedge of bushes laden with sour red currants, each as translucent as the jelly but with faint little stripes from top to bottom, like a beach ball, and with a little pip of something on top, left over from the flower.
The hedge and garden stop at the orchard, and there are rows of gnarled trees, all good for climbing and making separate houses, all bearing different sorts of apples, with different tastes and different consistencies: Snows and Hubbardsons and Northern Spys and Wallingfields and big, fat Northwestern Greenings, for pies, and Daddy's favorite apple, Eastern Maiden's Blush. In the fall, after they are gathered, the potatoes and carrots and turnips and apples and squashes and pumpkins are stored in her most private, most special place on the entire farm, in the part of the basement beneath this table: the dirt-floored pungent root cellar, where she goes during the fall and winter from time to time, just to stand in the dim light of the single bulb, amid the bins and bushel baskets, and breathe deep breaths in dizzy ecstasy.
There are the breadstuffs of the meal: the stuffing in the chickens, made with onions and celery and sage and butter, and the plump, hot rolls. Grama is explaining about the flour. Jackie knows it comes from town in sacks that Grama turns into dish towels, after a hired man has poured the flour, in a sneezy cloud of dust, into the big square flour box beside the stove. Jackie and the others always perch on this box to be able to see what is going on yet be out from underfoot. "But we never buy a lick of bread," says Grama. "I make all those loaves every other day, enough to feed our house and Ronald's, too, so even though we buy the flour, and the yeast, we produce ourselves all the bread and cakes and pies and cookies we ever use. And the jellies-there's sugar to buy, Daddy forgot that, but that's all. And I even make my own mincemeat."
Only last week Jackie had watched Grama mince up the meat for the mincemeat, beef from a butchered cow, and helped cut up the apples and raisins, and drunk in the heady fumes as she'd stood over the kettle stirring the dark mixture. And later she'd watched Grama roll out the pie dough, dough made with lard rendered from a butchered pig.
And last of all on the table, rising like the barn's central silo above the other dishes, is the tall white china pitcher of milk, and clustered below it, the other dairy products: the cream, the butter, the cottage cheese. Later, there will be whipped cream mounded on the mince and pumpkin and apple pies.
Grampa is right. It's all from the farm. You can quibble if you want about the flour and raisins and the coffee the grown-ups will drink with their pie. You can waggle your finger at the salt and pepper, as Craig is doing. But these are small matters. They have really grown all the food for their Thanksgiving meal right at home.
"The Lord, of course, gives the increase," says Grampa. "But none of this bounty would be here without the daily efforts of each of us. It is the fruit of our labor. And for this I am truly thankful."
agrees Mother. Everyone laughs and nods, and starts passing the laden