Celebrating Thanksgiving at Howell Nature Center

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This is an account of our family Thanksgiving celebration in 2010.

I celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday with my in-laws at the Howell Nature Center. If you were there, and you are reading this, fear not! I am not going to air all of the family’s dirty laundry in this article. I am waiting for an opportunity when I have an even bigger audience.

We rented a lodge for the day (and when I say we, I mean that some very generous soul picked up the tab for everyone). It was equipped with an adequate kitchen, indoor plumbing, a dishwasher that can do a load of dishes in less than five minutes, and enough tables and chairs to provide seating for four siblings, eleven cousins, three and one half second cousins, and a couple of strays we picked up somewhere.

Before dinner there was time for the children to pile in the back of the pick-up truck and ride down to visit the animals at the Wild Wonders Wildlife Park. This was a clever ruse designed to amuse and distract them while waiting to eat, keep them out from underfoot during the final preparations, and better prepare them to sit still during dinner.

While I was showing the children that the raptors were eating white mice for their Thanksgiving dinner, the responsible adults were spreading food out on a table that threatened to buckle under the weight of turkey, duck, venison, sweet potatoes, green beans and corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, beet preserves and cranberry relish, and deviled eggs.

Finally, it was time to come to the table. As we sat wasting away, dying of starvation, salivating uncontrollably, we watched the maitre de carve the turkey and the duck. We tried to remember what we were thankful for so we could recount our blessings while we lit the votive candles on each of the tables. The seven-year-old stands up and says, “I love God very much”. My niece announces that her infant hasn’t had a seizure in seven months. We applaud while they light their candles.  Then we ask God to make us truly grateful for all that we have received and not so fearful about the future, and we eat.

Did I mention that there was cranberry pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie, coconut cream pie and chocolate pie?

After dinner I waddle out to the fire pit to start the fire. From time to time flocks of geese fly by. I wonder if they will land in the little lake at the bottom of the hill, but they all fly by, probably headed for nearby Triangle Lake. When the geese are not honking I hear the sound of the euphonium and the flute. Apparently the twins brought their instruments with them. I worry about my ability to start the fire in these wet woods on a drizzly day, but I brought a lot of paper and I pile a small mountain of damp brush on top of it. Some of the wood toward the bottom of the pile of firewood provided for us is pretty dry, so I throw that on there as well. After the paper and kindling is burning pretty good I walk down the path to the lake while the kindling dries out and then starts to smoke. When I climb back up the hill, I am relieved to see that the fire is going strong. This was pretty much my only responsibility for the day, and I did not want to mess it up.

The children have been inside plotting a Christmas surprise already. Now it is getting dark and they come spilling out to play hide and seek, while the adults play Battle of the Sexes. The women are polite and inclusive, but the men triumph, powered by the German beer they have been sampling.  Victory has a price, however. Grown men are forced to admit that they know that Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice and that Frank McCourt’s book was called Angela’s Ashes.

One by one, cold and wet children drift back in from outdoors like refugees.

Just as well, because we are supposed to vacate by eight o’clock, and we do not want to leave a mess or any small children behind. Arrangements are made for the final disposition of the leftovers. There are toys, clothing, and food everywhere, but one by one the family cars are loaded up and drive away, leaving just one pair of socks and a screwdriver behind. As we stand in the parking lot in the rain, we finalize our plans to meet tomorrow for the Festival of Lights and say our last good-byes.