MARTHA SEZ: ‘Does anyone even have an Aunt Mabel anymore?’

Happy Thanksgiving! When November comes, we Americans like to hark back to that first Thanksgiving, with Squanto and Captain Shrimp and the gang. Harking back is all very well, but we should be thankful that we were not there at the time.

Hark is a funny word, isn’t it? A word not heard that much these days. Except for “Hark, the herald angels sing,” which we will all be hearing a lot of very soon. (Much better than “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” or “Holly Jolly Christmas.”)

But first, Thanksgiving.

Those of us directly descended from people who attended that first Pilgrim feast should consider ourselves lucky indeed to be here at all, since our line could well have ended right then and there. The founders of the Plymouth colony starved and froze and died of scurvy and various infectious diseases, which they shared with the natives of the area.

The people who came over on the Mayflower were called Saints and Strangers. The Saints came to escape religious persecution, but the Strangers were seeking opportunity — they must have been pretty desperate — or they were indentured servants.

Indentured servants worked as slaves until their debt was paid. They could be bought and sold. As a colonist said at the time, servants were sold like horses all over New England.

The Saints wanted religious freedom for themselves, but not for anyone else — for example Quakers, whom they sometimes tarred and feathered. Also, the Saints didn’t hold with foolishness or frolicking.

The Plymouth colony was not the best place for women. The Pilgrim fathers didn’t think that women should be educated, and the girls born there never learned to read or write. A visitor from England described Plymouth women as old before their years, calling them “A tooth-shaken lot.”

Some women bore 13 or 20 children, and only saw three or four live to grow up. Some women died in childbirth. Women tended to die young; men had successive wives and families.

I wonder if the women cooked the deer, fish, clams and oysters, fowl and other food served at the first Thanksgiving, and then cleaned up afterward? Maybe not, since Native Americans brought in most of the game, and might have cooked it out of doors over the fire. Barbecue has customarily been a man’s job, and the custom could have started as far back as the first Thanksgiving. Or even with cavemen. They might have had football back then, or the equivalent, but they didn’t have television.

So, whether you are a man or a woman, you should be thankful you are not back at Plymouth Rock with the Pilgrims. I’m sure that Thanksgiving is much more fun these days.

Be thankful, even if you do have to drive across the country, hectically zigzagging back and forth like some dizzy clusterfly trying to placate your own relatives as well as your in-laws, and, if you’re a house guest, trying to stay awake during the day and not make too much noise at night. Also trying to avoid discussing politics and religion and whatever else Aunt Mabel and Uncle Charles are going on about. They both repeat themselves so much they sound like a broken record. They sound like two skipping records, in fact, both playing at the same time, endlessly reiterating their talking points, never listening to each other or anyone else.

Does anyone even have an Aunt Mabel anymore? Used to be everyone had an Aunt Mabel.

Does anyone remember what a skipping record sounds like?

It is all right to ask these boring old fuddy-duddy questions from now until the New Year, because, as I have previously pointed out, this is the season to hark back.

Family members do have shared experiences, but their take-aways from any given experience are likely to differ. The other day I overheard a family talking about a cousin’s wedding in Croghan, New York, where the famous Croghan bologna is made.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Maura, they served Croghan bologna at the reception. Didn’t you see the Croghan bologna?”

“Oh, my goodness, no, I didn’t notice the bologna,” Maura said apologetically. “Silly of me. I guess I had my mind on something else.”

Hard to believe a person would go to her cousin’s wedding and not have her mind on the bologna, isn’t it?

Family occasions can be fraught. But at least we can be thankful we weren’t at that first Thanksgiving.

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen, of Keene Valley, has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)

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