Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Ohio Thanksgiving mid-1960's
for us growing up was never about the Pilgrims and Indians, though we spent many an hour in school carving feathers for turkeys and Indians with snub-nosed scissors from faded construction paper...remember those nifty paper head dresses put together with edible glue? Back then, if we were lucky, we could still find an arrow head, if only in a treasure box in grandpas desk...dug up from a field on the north side of the farm. The barn would still be warm and dusty though outside it was cold and overcast...Uncle Virgil would sneak in to spit on our new shoes and generally just creep us out. In the farmhouse, filled with coats and relatives, the coal furnace could not be regulated and we would almost die of the heat. Talk was of Grange meetings, government subsidies. In the mid-1960's, the small family farm was an endangered species...we were all on the way to a zoo, of sorts. That farm, that house, those trees and land and pond and black flies and frogs...it is still there. But nothing works now. It's a museum.
This Thanksgiving, I wonder if the ghosts are mingling around, down the quarter-mile drive from the road to the old, leaning farm house. What will Uncle Virgil do since we aren't there for him to spit on our shoes? No one can knock on our ratty, blonde heads and ask uncaring about our school work. Ghosts. Grandma Briner with her unnaturally young hands red in scalding dishwater, the flaky crusts of pies, the congealing gravy boat, wool coats smelling of mothballs piled in the bedroom. Grandpa Briner sitting in his recliner, grinning some secret grin. Aunts and Uncles, weather, always the weather, and subsidies. Then the younger men, and a few renegade older ones, would head out to hunt, everyone admiring who had grown the best beard, and lightly mocking the sparse growers. Uncle Bob...where DID he come from! Wide, and stocky, a big, thick beard if he tried or not, gun tipped over his shoulder like it grew there. Masculine men, and quiet farmers. My father, tall, young, eyes that laughed and found fun and joy in everything. And back in the house, the silent, demure lesbian aunts, who lived in humbled subservience. Pretend. Don't ask. Don't tell. School Teachers, Nurses, lonely companions pretending to be spinsters. My mother, a city gal, so to speak, with nothing in common but trying to fit in anyway, sneaking out with Aunt Dorothy to have a smoke...the only thing that connected the two. Guffawing at Uncle Virgil. He buried a million dollars in his yard you know. Aunt Donna, no one realized she was a wonderful tapestry artist caught in a hideous marriage to a twisted old man. Maybe it worked for them. No children, thank god!
Thanksgiving, with little rivulets of frozen water in the ditches along down the lane to the country highway. The slamming of a screen door and a sharp reminder to not track mud in. Hand-mashed potatoes with lumpless gravy. Hand cranked ice cream with last years' maple syrup. Too far to drive home tonight. All three of us kids falling to sleep in the middle of a sagging mattress under a mound of quilts. And oatmeal with brown sugar for breakfast. I pee the bed and blame it on Howard. Jeff, the little one wanders over to stand on the iron-grated heat register in his pajamas, damp from pee, oblivious and happy.