There’s no cell service in Jenner and no electricity at the cabin, but the big room where we saute mushrooms for a savory gravy on the propane stove and pull trays of baked potatoes and bubbling casseroles out of the oven, where we decorate the big round table with treasures found on our afternoon walk, is well-lit by a hanging black wrought-iron chandelier. One of us lights those candles before dark and fills our glasses with a good local Zinfandel, and as soon as the sun sets we sit down to say a few words about what we’re thankful for — including each other and this time together — and enjoy the vegan feast we’ve prepared. After dinner we lounge on the couch and in the rocking chair to play music and laugh over favorite games by the warmth of the wood-burning stove. Not a bad way to enjoy Thanksgiving in the 21st century.
Almost one hundred years ago, in Napoleon, Ohio, eleven-year-old Julia Murray had a Thanksgiving day she described in her story in 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl, traveling to her aunt’s farm in the family Model T and eating turkey roasted in her aunt’s wood-burning stove.
EXCERPT from Girlhood in America (“Tomboy” Chapter 2)
When autumn cooled the summer heat and cornfields lay fallow, maples, sassafras trees, oak hickories, and chestnut oaks gave a vibrant show before dropping their leaves. Julia’s favorite holiday was coming.
Thanksgiving started with a cold ride in the Model T for most of the fifteen-mile drive up the gravel road to Uncle Walter and Aunt Afton’s farm. On the way there, a few cars passed us and a couple of farm wagons, the horses throwing back their heads, wild-eyed at the sound of our motor. We passed weathered, unpainted farmhouses, faded red barns, and now and then a small orchard of leafless trees. I was happy when we finally arrived.
The farmhouse was on 360 acres of rich farmland that had been cultivated for years by some of our German ancestors. Behind the house was the big red barn, the chicken house, hog pens, the smokehouse, and the dairy barn. The windmill a few steps from the kitchen door provided water.
Everybody was there on Thanksgiving Day — grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Aunt Afton baked a twenty-pound gobbler in her big wood stove, cooked yams and mashed potatoes with fresh-churned butter and fresh milk. My mother brought her sunshine gelatin salad and others brought vegetables, cranberry sauce, pies, and cakes, and there was always that pan of oyster dressing. After dinner the women cleaned up and gossiped and the men gathered outside to visit and smoke before feeding the farm animals and tending them for the night. I never wanted the day to end.
What was your Thanksgiving like when you were a kid? What parts of it do you enjoy at your Thanksgiving table now? That day really doesn’t have to end.