“Mom, how do you spell Massasoit?”
“Mom, how do you spell Samoset?”
“Mom, how do you spell Patuxet?
My children are learning more about the first Thanksgiving at school than I ever did. The only vocabulary words I bothered to familiarize myself with when I was their ages were Mayflower, turkey and feast. When I reminisced with them about my crafting tall, black pilgrim hats in elementary school complete with yellow construction paper buckles, my nine year old hit me with,
“They didn’t have buckles on their hats, Mom. Or on their shoes, for that matter. They didn’t even dress in black. That’s just a stereotype. Actually, buckles didn’t even come into fashion until a hundred years later.” Wow, how naive can I get?
So I decided to do a little research on the first Thanksgiving. What did the pilgrims wear if they didn’t wear buckles on their hats? Did they eat turkey and pie? How did they survive that first winter? After a little digging, the kids and I discovered just how much we have to be grateful for.
We were surprised to learn that the pilgrim children didn’t have a seat at the first Thanksgiving table, not even a little, kiddie card table. Instead the pilgrim children served the adults and ate standing up. The bowed to their parents and were taught to never say “no” to them. (The more I learn, the more I like these pilgrims…)
We learned the pilgrims didn’t bathe more than a few times a year. We learned they wore colorful clothes and not all black. We learned that all children under seven wore a long dress, both boys and girls alike. (My boys didn’t think that was funny at all.) We learned underpants hadn’t been invented yet, and that there were no right and left shoes. All shoes were cut the same.
Forget the hard tack and gruel on the Mayflower. We discovered the menu they were so grateful to gorge themselves on would be considered a cruel diet by our modern taste buds. They didn’t have sugar! No molasses either. Oh sure, the pilgrims had pumpkins, but no pumpkin pie.
I asked the children how they would feel about a real, authentic Plymouth Rock feast this year…complete with stewed eels, cod, sea bass, roasted swans, boiled pumpkins and beans, perhaps a deer on a spit outside, hmmm? They went white with fear. (Between you and me, I don’t think I have it in me to slaughter and cook my own eel, but they know better than to call my bluffs.)
We felt sad when we read about how cold and sick everyone was that first winter. We learned how only six or seven adults were ever well enough at one time to perform all the chores that come with moving to and surviving in a virtual wilderness, and how it was mostly the children who had to do the work, and how it was mostly the children who survived.
We rejoiced when we discovered my kids have an ancestor on my husband’s side who signed the Mayflower Compact, and were sobered again when we learned how he did not survive that first, ruthless winter but thankfully his son did.
This Thanksgiving, not only are we grateful for our downright decadent mashed potatoes and my famous fluffy rolls that call for half a pound of butter…But as the weather turns crisp and our noses turn pink, we are indeed grateful for our warm, cozy beds. We are grateful for the insulation in our walls. We are grateful for the medicine in our cabinets and for the grocery store down the street that most definitely does not stock live eels. We are grateful for our comfortable shoes, our underpants, and our all-weather coats. We’re thankful for our washing machine and for hot, running water.
But mostly we are thankful for the pilgrims’ indomitable spirit, mental toughness, generous sacrifice and their foresight to the future generations. They paved the way to our current, bounteous harvest, our plentiful way of life.
(But if my boys had it their way, we’d still only be bathing a few times a year.)