The Beaten Path

Winter view of the Portland Head Light in Maine during snow storm.

Winter view of the Portland Head Light in Maine during snow storm.

We completed our sojourn to Maine safely by a whisker.  In the calm post-arrival moment, I find myself reflecting on this annual ritual of national mobilization.  I recall being taught something from grade school– something I now dimly remember –about the origins of Thanksgiving.  Didn’t George Washington give thanks in the woods of Valley Forge?  Or was it a declared national day of prayer following his election as the first president of the republic?  Or, something surrounding Lincoln and his now famous 2-minute speech at Gettysburg?  The struggle to remember the particulars is always a battle in and of itself, but these things pale against more important facts such as remembering my mother’s birthday or who in the family last hosted that late November All-American gathering.  Yet if there exists a theme at Thanksgiving, I maintain this theme really has nothing to do with Washington, hosting a meal, or a prayer for the nation.  Thanksgiving is really about one thing and one thing only:  will the weather hold up so I can get to where I’m supposed to go?

Now, it may come a shock to many Americans, but there exists a world of good sense beyond the borders of our fair nation, and I say this with the best intentions of a wandering sage.    Ever notice how a compass always points north?  I became a teacher because I always felt, even a child, that not everything is true, not even the so-called true north.  This sense of the world was confirmed when I married a Canadian and discovered another way of doing things. Those great deposits of iron up there are just that – great deposits of iron.  And when the compass points to those, it points the way to better things – such as a better Thanksgiving.  Canadians don’t take chances with things that matter.  If they want a good party, then they schedule it when people can most easily travel to make it happen—and that is in October.  Imagine that, Thanksgiving in October.  When Americans hear this they’ll hit their heads like the guy in the old TV commercial who says, “Gee!  I could’ve had a V-8!”

Shackleton's 1910 lecture in Boston

Shackleton’s 1910 lecture in Boston

In the meantime, we all do battle, flailing away at the late-November weather.  This year our trip to “Grandma’s house” took us through Boston on our way to Maine.  Sounds adventurous, even glamorous, and it held many moments that were all of that.  There’s always a price to be paid this time of year, though.  Being a teacher of theatre, I arranged tickets for a Boston University adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.  What a play!  Highly engaging, moving, and performed to the delight of an equally engaging audience. We hated to leave, all the more so because it was a frigid, windy night. The thrill of seeing a first-class production was followed by a plunge into frigid temperatures and ferocious winds.  Clinging to one another, leaning full-body into the wind amidst shouts that we had surely sighted the ice explorer Shackleton and his huskies sailing by on Huntington Avenue, we groped our way back to our hotel.  Thank goodness for the WoolX Merino Wool we had so wisely packed.

Turkey SnowBack to school-day facts.  Whose idea was this to make Thanksgiving the last Thursday of November, anyway? Something about FDR and stimulating Christmas shopping in the depression.  Hrumph.  We are safely at grandma’s now, tucked into the woods of Maine.  My grandfather’s old compass is on the shelf, faithfully pointing towards a better idea.   I gaze out the window at wind and snow and dream of more sensible possibilities.