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We’ll Party Like Pilgrims PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rick Epstein   


When I was a little kid, I didn’t think much about Thanksgiving. In school, we’d trace around our hands to draw turkeys and learn about a Native American named Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn or bake pumpkin pies or something.


Then around seventh grade I had to do a report on the first New England Thanksgiving. I consulted my favorite source, the World Book Encyclopedia. (I looked again just now as a refresher.) Here’s a summary: Thanking God for the first harvest in the New World, it was a three-day extravaganza involving about 50 colonists and 90 Native Americans. The menu included duck, goose, turkey, venison, eel, fish, clams, leeks, watercress, cornbread and plums. “Everyone ate outdoors at large tables and enjoyed games and a military review,” says the encyclopedia.


With the deadly winter of 1620-21 behind them and the travails of the Boston Red Sox centuries ahead of them, the colonists were feeling festive, and for a short time, Plymouth, Mass., was the party capital of the New World.


In fact, it seemed to my 12-year-old self that the original Thanksgiving set a standard that has been hard to live up to. Certainly my own family’s observance fell dismally short. It featured good food, fine china and gleaming silverware, but what was that to a kid? I’d have traded all of it just for a close-up look at an eel. And as a holiday, it arrived empty-handed, offering no gifts, no Santa Claus, no fireworks, no songs, no candy, no costumes, no egg hunts – not even a dreidel! Just an endless dinner.


Because our relatives lived far away and my dad didn’t like company anyway, it was always just us. To Dad, privacy was more delicious than pumpkin pies. Whenever more than one of my friends visited, he would joke pointedly, “So, when did you decide to have the party?”


Once Uncle Phil and Aunt Char came to visit and we put them up in the guest room – at the Sleepy Hollow Motel. I could never understand my dad’s craving for privacy. I only wanted it when I was doing something wicked. But the worst thing Dad ever did was to send our relatives to the Sleepy Hollow Motel.


It’s not as though the tail-lights of Uncle Phil’s Chrysler would fade in the direction of the motel and Dad would fire up the tiki torches, install two cold ones in his beer hat, and yell, “Woohooo! Party time!” No, he’d just put on his pajamas and go to bed.


I’ve been glad to follow my dad’s lead on a lot of things, but not on privacy. I want friends to drop in for dinner, and if they stay for a few days, so much the better.


But with two kids away at college and the youngest usually off somewhere on urgent social business, our house is quiet as a mausoleum. Our cat, Mr. Kitty, is at least someone else to talk to. My wife and I watch so much TV that we think the characters on shows must know us.


But on Thanksgiving, this place will be swarming with visitors. Real ones! The guest list includes all three daughters, two of their college friends, both of my brothers, a sister-in-law, a niece and a lively terrier.


The coffee will flow like water. Bedtime? Ha! Ten o’clock will come and go unnoticed. My wife will get the help in the kitchen that she dreams of all year, as the chatting multitudes peel and chop whatever she shoves their way. We’ll add so many leaves to our dining-room table you could land an airplane on it. Each night, people will sleep on every flat surface. We’ll have to borrow extra pillows from Grandma. Laughter and affection will abound.


Conspicuously sober, Mr. Kitty will spend most of the holiday weekend on top of the refrigerator, wishing everyone would go back where they came from. His demeanor will remind me of Dad, the day he came home from work and found me and two pals sitting on the front lawn. “What is this?” he asked, “Woodstock?”


Rick can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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