This year 2004, just after Thanksgiving, we will celebrate our 25th anniversary of living at End of the Road Farm.
Twenty-five years ago we emptied our apartment over a greengrocer and two doors down from a supermarket into a U-Haul truck; then my husband Henry took off in the truck and I took off in the car with our three teenage girls for an old farmhouse in Heath where the nearest groceries, at Peter’s General Store, were three miles away.
It had been sunny shirtsleeve weather in New York City, but by the time we got to Greenfield it was dark, the temperature had plummeted, and the wind had picked up. We were later than we had planned so we grabbed a bit of supper and then climbed the hill to Heath.
The plumber we had arranged to meet us had given up so we entered a house with no central heat and no water. The temperature was 10 degrees. The wind was blowing from the north. Henry amused us by showing how he could slip a pencil through the barn siding that covered the walls, through the broken plaster, through the lath and finally through the siding into the great outdoors. We shivered.
But there was a truck to unload. Fortunately we were able to call upon two of the Lively boys who were neighbors to help. When the last box was stacked inside we sat by a roaring fire in the stone fireplace and drank cocoa with the boys. That night we began our life in Heath sleeping in front of the fire.
We had certainly celebrated Thanksgiving before we left New York, especially thankful for the impending move from The Noisiest Apartment in the City, to a quiet hill in the country. Two weeks after the move we gave thanks once again. We had collected stored possessions from my mother’s house in New Hampshire, running water was restored, we were sleeping in bedrooms and we had met our nearest neighbor, Mabel Vreeland, who was 85 and had been living on our road for the past 20 years with no near full-time neighbors.
Knowing that we were as yet unemployed, Mabel gave us a couple of bushels of carrots and turnips from her organic garden. Her brother Victor brought us a load of firewood. They had a clear understanding of essential needs and without hesitation they gave what it was in their power to give.
Over our quarter century in Heath we have had nearly daily opportunities to be thankful for such friends and neighbors as Mabel and Victor.
Over the years most memories of Thanksgiving feasts have melted into each other, the meal staying essentially the same, but the color of the walls and the size of the makeshift tables, a kaleidoscope of color and form. The crowd changes, with spouses and children being added on a fairly regular basis for several years, and the loss of parents a noticeable void in the crowd.
Still, I have to say our first Thanksgiving in Greenfield in 1971 was memorable for an ice storm that prevented me, a newly divorced woman, from taking my five children to Grandmother’s House where we could enjoy a familiar loved routine in a familiar place. Warned of the severity of the storm that was already approaching with sleet, I bought the last chicken at the supermarket to serve as our holiday bird. The children still speak of that Thanksgiving fondly. A reminder that it is not really abundance that we require. Just enough is plenty when shared with love and confidence.
The two years we spent in Beijing, in 1989 and 1995, also provided memorable Thanksgivings. Living amid an international community at the Friendship Hotel it took the help of the chef at the Foreign Experts Dining Hall to produce a roast turkey, and negotiation and tight scheduling to arrange to use the little portable oven that circled among friends at the Hotel. At that long table that held Chinese specialties as well as the turkey the toasts came in a multiplicity of languages. We celebrated on the day of the American holiday and the reference to our history of Pilgrims and Wampanoags was obvious, but there is no culture, society or nationality that doesn’t have its own traditions of hardships survived and celebrations of gratitude.
This year the family feast will take place at son Chris’ house. He and Michelle have finally completed the renovation on their house, the finishing touch a beautiful and efficient kitchen. This will be the first time they have fed such a crowd. Eighteen are expected, and Chris is busy devising a table made of two sheets of plywood. Many Thanksgiving hosts have given thanks for tablecloths!
I think back to my younger self, the excitement and enthusiasm with which we took up our life in Heath, undaunted by those first days of cold and waterlessness. We laughed and told ourselves we were made of rugged stuff, strong peasant stock and up to all challenges of winter and rough weather.
This year I think back over that quarter century and give thanks for the changing seasons, a progression that is ever new. I give thanks for the beauty and abundance of our plot of land, the pleasures of the Frog Pond and a house that has become ever more snug.
But most of all I give thanks for the happy growth of our family, and the friends who have blessedly found their way into our lives
This was originally published in The Recorder in 2004 – BTB – Before The Blog.
Between the Rows November 2004