Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas shopping now and then

I did the unthinkable yesterday.

For the first time in my life, I went shopping on Black Friday.

Frankly, it has never been an option. I’ve always worked on the day after Thanksgiving, but I never thought I was missing anything – getting up at the crack of dawn, waiting in the dark in sub-freezing temperatures, shopping in standing-room-only stores and inching forward for hours in long checkout lines.

But this year was different. I was on vacation.

Scanning the newspaper flyers, I noticed that none of the early-bird specials were on my Christmas list this year. So I arrived at the Silver City Galleria in Taunton, Mass., at a respectable 7 a.m.

Driving into the mall lot, I pulled into a parking space right in front of the door of Dick’s Sporting Goods. I walked to the Food Court, where I had arranged to meet my daughter and son’s girlfriend.

I sat in one of the plastic chairs near Dunkin’ Donuts, and then the most amazing thing happened. I watched the happy faces of the shoppers pass by. I marveled at the sparkling lights and decorations that lit up the space between floors in the center of the mall. I listened to Christmas carols.

And I was a child again …

Holding my mother’s hand, I walk into McWhirr’s in Downtown Fall River, and I know just where all the toys are. My mother waits patiently while I search for the perfect doll before sitting on Santa’s lap. We eat at the lunch counter, my favorite tuna roll and coffee "cab". From furniture to stationery, McWhirr’s has it all; and the kind elevator operators take us up and down until we’ve covered every inch of the five floors. The place is magical with mysterious cylinders that vanish into tubes, carrying money to some unknown place and miraculously returning with the correct change. By the end of the day, I am so tired but happy. We leave with as many bags as we can carry …

Back in the present, I spot my shopping buddies; and I order a tea and donut. Sitting near the twinkling Christmas tree in the Food Court, we take out our lists.

Slowly working our way through two levels from Sears to Macy’s, we wait in short lines, hand over coupons and swipe cards. We catch our breath at Bertucci’s, where we stop for salad and pizza.
My accomplices, who started at dawn, have to leave; but I take my time. I smile as I watch Santa listening to children’s wishes.
At 4 p.m. I walk outside into the waning sunshine. Tired but happy, I leave with as many bags as my trunk can carry.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims

In 1621, Pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote to a friend in England. His letter records the only eyewitness account of the first Thanksgiving feast:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. The four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Personally, I once had the good fortune to meet a Pilgrim.

Working as the food editor for Hometown magazine, I received an assignment to interview an impersonator.

A self-taught historian and gifted cook, the lady had applied for a position at Plimoth Plantation.

“I picked Plimoth Plantation for no good reason,” she told me. “What kind of skills do you need to be a Pilgrim?”

She portrayed Julia Kempton, the older sister of Governor Carver’s wife.

A 40-year-old widow with three children, Julia was marrying a 21-year-old.

“I’d always say that he was marrying me because of my great cooking,” she quipped.

Julia Kempton shared a homestead with her nephew.

“My ‘housemate’ was a trained chef, who was between jobs,” she said. “At Plimoth Plantation we were expected to do the actual cooking, but it was important that everything we prepared was cooked authentically. It got so that the head of the Cooking Department there would give us the very best ingredients, and we’d have a feast at our house.”

The Pilgrims ate lobster sometimes out of necessity.

“They didn’t enjoy it, but we sure did,” she told me.

Next Thursday, we, New Englanders, will recreate our forebears' harvest feast, with turkey, native to these parts, and all the trimmings.

By the goodness of God, I pray that you are so far from want and partakers of plenty on this Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A mid-November reprieve

Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy and a few days after a nor’easter, my husband and I sit on the picnic table at Fogland State Beach.

“Most of us have inner barometers; certainly I do,” wrote New England author Gladys Taber in “Country Chronicle.” “During an autumn storm mine is very low. My movements slow, and I have a tendency to sit by the fire and just wait for the rain to stop even if what I had planned to do, does not involve going outdoors. I listen to the wind, and I think melancholy thoughts. A three-day nor’easter induces me to disbelieve in the blue of the sky above the black clouds.”

Bundled in a wool coat and boots, I am comfortable in the bright sunshine, light wind and forty-something temperatures. The Sakonnet has gotten over its temper tantrum and now at low tide is as tranquil as a freshwater pond rippling gently in the breeze.

It is so peaceful here.

Looking back over these last few weeks, I think we are all in need of a well-deserved break.

Along with the wild weather, we had to weather the presidential election, which wore us out.

 “I just wish our elections had more dignity,” wrote Taber in her 1967 book “Stillmeadow Calendar.” After all, it isn’t the party with the most balloons and buttons, the loudest cheering sections and biggest signs at conventions that may provide responsible government. I think we should educate children from the first grade on to have more interest in political affairs. And our whole system of electing a president should be studied and changed, if necessary, so that elections can take place in a practical, economical manner.”

Forty-five years later, the American voter has been bombarded with over $6 billion worth of robocalls, Super PAC TV ads, and political cards stuffed in mailboxes, and we are exhausted.

No matter whether our candidates won or not, we breathe a collective sigh of relief that it is over.

We drive along Neck Road and Seapowet Avenue, stopping every once and a while to watch animals grazing: horses wrapped in blankets, wooly sheep wearing winter coats and a lone burro in his pen.

A flock of Canada geese congregate in a sheltered duck pond. Common residents of southern New England, the pale gray geese have long black necks and a large white chinstrap. Most often sighted overhead flying in a V-pattern and making a honking sound, the waterfowl are content to drift soundlessly on secluded waters.

Over the past few weeks, these stately and majestic birds have battled hurricane-force winds, heavy rains and freezing temperatures just like us. But today they rest.

We should too.







Saturday, November 3, 2012

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy

Five days after Hurricane Sandy, we drive to the Tiverton summer house. The sky is robin’s-egg blue, and it as warm as a day in June.

Incredibly, the blue hydrangeas on the side of the house are blooming again, and the purple morning glories creep up the porch as if they haven’t a clue it’s November.

Outside of twigs scattered throughout the yard, the property is just as we left it last Saturday: the aluminum boat overturned and belted to its trailer, the redwood picnic table upside down, our powerboat hugging the back of the house where it is anchored.

Last Tuesday, the day after the storm, my husband was here; and the salt marsh had transformed into a river that crested 20 feet from our neighbor’s back door. But today, it lies dormant, taking a rest from its exertion this past week.

Reflecting the sky and mirroring the sun, the Sakonnet sparkles like blue diamonds and barely ripples in the light wind. Yet, here along the beach Sandy left its tracks.

All along the waterfront are huge rocks, carried on the high surf and deposited in the road and on our neighbors’ front lawns. It looks more like the terrain on the moon than a sandy beach.

A picnic table situated on the flat curve of horseshoe-shaped Fogland State Beach looks like it has been set down in the middle of a desert, surrounded by hills of sand.

Yet, despite these signs and the lack of electric power for days, the swipe Sandy made on our coastline left no scars; and we thank God for the close escape.

Before the hurricane, the Weather Channel was background noise in our house; and after the onslaught, CNN took its place.

Images of Sandy’s wrath on Staten Island and all the other seaside towns in New York and New Jersey flash across the screen. The vision brings tears to my eyes, as the death toll of over a hundred continues to rise.

Most of the stories tell of the bravery of countless souls: the N.Y. firemen fighting a conflagration in hurricane winds, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping anyone in need.

Yet there are also those of people behaving badly: homeowners who are afraid to leave their battered houses because thieves wait in the wings ready to loot, or The Bad Samaritan, who refused to open his door to a women begging for refuge for her two little boys, who ultimately drowned in the storm.

Today in Tiverton we pick up tree limbs and armloads of rocks. We move on unscathed but aware that if the trajectory of the storm had veered a little to the right …