Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Thanksgiving by Doris Lee, 1935 [Art Institute of Chicago]
This is my favorite holiday of the year, hands down. For the past thirteen years we have had large gatherings on this day at our old New Hampshire home, now someone else's and arguably one of the most Currier & Ives kinds of settings for a Thanksgiving feast. Our extended families and, in more recent years, dear friends have come together in fellowship and feasting. Out of the pantry we brought the special crystal, our favorite blue Yuan china set, the old Indus servers with their brown Aesthetic-era patterning, polished silver and pressed linens. Our museum-like house was warmed with people gathered around us and the scent of meal preparations in our spacious kitchen. A large savory turkey with my special stuffing, butternut squash my husband and I had prepared together earlier in the fall, apple and cranberry sauces and grape jam I'd made with the kids, mashed potatoes, homemade rolls and gravy, pies and other unique offerings from friends. A groaning board of plenty and goodness.
This year we are just the five of us--my husband, our two boys and elderly aunt. Our daughter is working at a ski resort in Vermont so she is too far off to come here for the holidays. Meanwhile, I've been knocked over with bronchitis and pneumonia so I'm not pushing myself too much. We have had several kind invitations to join new friends and we had also wanted to gather friends to join us here for dinner. Instead we decided that the best thing was to have a "no stress" holiday: just us, minimal preparations, easy on the fixings. We can celebrate with friends another time this winter. [Photos of our children--three of my main blessings--are from last year's Thanksgiving altogether in New Hampshire. Ironically, my husband was here in Kentucky at the time...so we had another gathering when he got back with a different group of friends.]
So in this very different holiday for us, our first in our new land, I am reflecting on what is truly important. It's not the table settings, now all in boxes in storage so we're using my favorite every day pottery, "Country Fare," with its rustic brown and aqua glazing, similar to the colors in the above painting (and also in my former New Hampshire kitchen). [Ironically, Country Fare pottery started in the 1940s in Zanesville, Ohio and ended up distributed at Louisville Stoneware in Kentucky, by way of Carbone in New England--just like me.] It also isn't about the picture-perfect Norman Rockwell home. For now, our cozy double-wide is home and provides a warm, comfortable roof over our heads (no pantry or cellar but we're making do with a root cellar/tornado shelter, a few well-stuffed cupboards and a chest freezer on the back porch).
We've been downsizing this year and our Thanksgiving is reflective of that: paring away to the bone of our family. Faith, family, friends, food, clothing, shelter (and to this list, on a personal level, I will add farm as that is what we are doing and trying to build here--a solid farm life--it's also the subtitle of my "In the Pantry" blog heading, more or less!). But this is what it's all about--the rudiments of what makes us who we are. We'll gather together, call our daughter and be thankful for what we have and our many blessings.
The painting by Doris Lee [you can click on the image, above, and it should open in a larger format--there are wonderful details and I've even just turned it into my computer desktop] was sent to me by my friend Sue who often shares her wisdom with me. She's like the big sister I never had and she and her partner Steve did most of the photography for The Pantry book. Lee lived among other artists in Woodstock, New York and was most famous for her WPA-era murals and paintings from the 1930s and 40s. "Thanksgiving" is a nostalgic reminder of a warm, wood-fired farmhouse with a kitchen full of women preparing a special dinner in distinct harmony.
In many ways, the image reminds me of the large, women-filled kitchens in the homes of our Mennonite friends, complete with wood cook stove. It appeals as much to me now, and to Sue, on the cusp of what are surely harder financial times ahead, as it did to those who saw it during the Great Depression. [Like Mary Poppins, Bert and her charges, it would be fun to jump right into the image, if I could. One thing I know I want in a future farmhouse kitchen is a big wood-burning cook stove! I miss the smell of a wood-warmed house and also want to use one for cooking.]
So a happy Thanksgiving to friends and family across our great nation and many blessings to you and yours,
PS If you click on the "Holidays" label below, there are other blog entries from past years. Almost four years for this blog now. [And I clearly need to go through and better inventory my entries...]