Thanksgiving At The Buzzards
This particular Thanksgiving Ma and I had come to the Big Farm a few days early and I rode Bucket-head Bess up into the hills to visit my friends, bringing a few "treats" from Pa's store. I intended leaving early the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day but by noon we were in the midst of a wild snow storm and I would not have dared set forth even had the Buzzards been willing for me to go. My family knew I was safe so there was nothing to be done but to join Clorinda and her girls in preparing for the coming feast.
The fireplace Ox built when he added on to the original cabin was big enough for him to stand in. In it's walls were set four ovens, two on each side. These were now busy baking pies and bread. Such quantities of pies and bread staggered me, accustomed though I was to the liberal table set at the Big Farm. Indeed, Ma and all my aunts were grand cooks whose meals were generous to a fault.
At the back of one oven a huge ham slowly baked while at the front a crock of beans mellowed. Roxy and Maddie each busied herself cleaning an enormous turkey while the younger girls crumbled bread for stuffing. A long shelf on one wall served as a cooling rack for the many loaves of bread and steaming pies I pulled from the ovens. Clorinda beat up johnnycake in a large yellow bowl, throwing in cornmeal by the handfuls. How good it tasted when eaten with the piping hot beans and rosy ham at supper time.
After supper and dishes, came an evening of frolic. There is no other word to describe it except 'frolic' for that is just what we did. Ox led off with blind-man's buff which sent us scurrying around the huge kitchen in gales of laughter. Then Sim played his violin while we danced a reel. How small I felt caught up in that gentle human forest as I was whisked through the figures of the dance. Finally, breathless from one last wild swing-your-partner, we all subsided around the glowing fireplace to listen to the magic of Sim's playing.
Sim bought his violin at an auction and Old Fiddler taught him to play. Sim seemed to be remembering rather than learning for his fingers flew with a cunning remarkable in one so young. Soon the music had words as, breath regained, one after another joined in the familiar songs. Some I knew but others were songs Ox and Clorinda brought from beyond the mountains and their words were strange though their melodies were sweet.
Finally Ox called for a hymn and then prayers were said, a chapter read from the Good Book and everyone went gratefully to bed. I shared Roxy's bed in a small room under the eaves where it was so cold we huddled together for comfort in spite of the hot soapstones at our feet. A small uncurtained window above the bed looked out on the mountainside now completely invisable in the swirling snow. The last sound I heard was the heavy thud of logs being fed to the blazing fire which would burn all night.
The next morning I woke when Roxy shook me gently. The icy room was lit by a small oil lamp. In its glow I could see that the window was white with snow. Below stairs I could hear sounds of the family going about morning chores. Quickly I dressed and joined them.
A kettle of rolled oats bubbled over the fire. The two huge turkeys were already roasting in hot ovens. The younger children were eating happily so I got a bowl of oats, poured creamy milk over it lavishly and sat next to the twins. Roxy brought me coffee in a heavy china cup and put down a platter of sausage and pancakes which the "least ones" and I soon polished off in record time. She had just refilled it when Ox, Sim, Nate, and Lonnie stomped in from their barn chores.
Snow had stopped falling but raging winds still whipped it into blinding curtains and baring drifts making the outdoors most unpleasant. Inside we were warm, there was enough to do to keep everyone occupied and Ox's jokes and riddles kept us all laughing and happy. Once I went to the door, thinking I might see signs of the storm abating but the raging wind only dashed stinging snow into my face, its reign not yet over.
The morning wore on. From the ovens came the tantalizing aroma of turkey and sage dressing. Potatoes boiled merrily in a black iron kettle. Somehow the long table was laid though we had to step over playing children, sleeping dogs, and a family of self-assured kittens who chose the most traveled paths for their beauty treatments.
At last we stood hand in hand around the groaning board while Ox asked the Lord's blessing on this and all the earth's bounty before we sang Old Hundred with glad hearts. Then Ox plunged his great carving knife into the first turkey and the feast began. Tender white meat, suculent drumsticks, mashed 'taters and gravy, orange squash with plumes of steam rising between dabs of butter, great slabs of bread and cups of green tea or milk all disappeared under cutlery industriously wielded by every hand. There was no lack of appreciation either for there were continual comments of "Say, Maw, that turkey's good." "I do admire your hand with gravy, Roxy." "This bread's light enough to float, "Rindy." And finally, "Who's ready for pie?"
That night, too, I shared Roxy's bed and as we slept the wind died down and the stars came out. At dawn the sun topped the mountain giving the world a brilliant glittering aspect. After breakfast I was bundled behind Nate on the back of one of Ox's huge Shire horses. With Bess trailing behind we headed down the trail to the Big Farm. It was so cold that the trees snapped in the quiet air and snow squeaked under the horses' hooves. At times even the great Shire sank above his knees in drifts while Bess followed gratefully in his tracks at the end of a long lead.
We reached the Big Farm safely and in plenty of time for dinner. I remember how small everyone looked after I had only seen the gigantic Buzzard family for so long. That was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from my family and I have never forgotten it.