Thanksgiving 2008

It turned cold early this year, cold enough for skim ice to form on freshwater ponds and streams and send Islanders scurrying to their closets for heavy coats, scarves and polar fleece ordinarily reserved for the deeper months of winter. And what happened to all those gloves from last year? Gloves are like socks — they disappear into the maw of daily life — the clothes dryer, the trunk of the car or that tricky spot between the seats that will surely be a treasure for archeologists some day with its pens, hair elastics and errant bits of dog biscuit. Gloves! Necessary sweaters for the hands, for children and aging boomers alike. Thanks goodness for the local dry cleaners which sells them in all colors and inexpensively.

And perhaps those are the watchwords for what remains of this year as we hurtle toward another Vineyard winter with the economy in a frightening state of uncertainty and many people already out of work — plenty of color and less expense.

As if on cue, nature has brought plenty of color this year. The summer and fall parade of berries has continued nonstop and while tender summer annuals and perennials succumbed weeks ago to hard frost, fields and woodlands remain brushed with orange, red, russet and gold. In the swamps and wet places of the Vineyard the brilliant red berries of black alder are set against bare, dark woody shrubs. Bittersweet has lost most of its waxy orange fruit, but the twisted vines so despised as an invasive can be fashioned into beautiful wreaths for the shed, barn door or country kitchen. Dusky red sumac graces tawny tall grass around the edges of old meadows. The last silvery leaves of autumn olive flicker in the brisk wind. Inkberry, juniper, holly and boxwood await their annual cutting for arrangements indoors and out.

The early cold weather has been good for bracing outdoor activities — hardy Island golfers are out on the links enjoying the off-season version of their sport, archery hunters stalk deer in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest and walkers and mountain bikers are out and about on the leaf-strewn trails of conservation properties from Chappaquiddick to Aquinnah. Virtually indistinguishable from the leaves with her coloring, the terrier wears a blaze orange collar while out on walks these days. Shotgun season for deer begins on Monday.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. The weather has turned milder again, and many will recall that exactly twenty years ago the Island was buried by a snowstorm on Thanksgiving Day.

Many Islanders have returned home for the holiday — college students who have been living away from the nest for the first time in their young lives and summer residents who come back every year to gather their clans, tribal-style, most likely for one more time before their houses are closed and shuttered for winter.

A soldier who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan and is home to visit his family in Chilmark spoke to elementary school children this week, bringing the experience of war directly into a classroom full of wide eyes and dawning comprehension about a complicated, chaotic world.

His presence reminds us all that we have plenty to be thankful for: a clean, healthy environment, good schools, good company (isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really all about?), warm homes and plenty of fresh food to eat from local farms and, of course, the sea.

Speaking of which, if yesterday’s meal has got you out walking it off, consider the following account that appeared in the Vineyard Gazette in 1888 describing the Thanksgiving meal of that year:

“Thanksgiving breakfast: Coffee, devilled oysters on toast, watercress salad, fried chicken, cream sauce, baked sweet potato, tomato omelette, Malaga grapes.

“Thanksgiving dinner: Stewed oysters, broiled smelts, sauce maitre d’hotel, Parisian potatoes, squirrel potpie, hunter’s style, stewed cauliflower, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, celery mayonnaise, fruitcake, lady fingers, pumpkin pie, mince pie, cheese, assorted nuts and fruits.”

No mention of supper.

But the same issue of the Gazette carried a fine illustrated advertisement of caskets, coffins and burial robes.