November 24, 2011 by Alison Grisham
By Alison Grisham
I’m not a history buff nor someone who sits around pondering the past on a regular basis. But I am from Massachusetts, just 30 minutes from Plymouth, which means I’ve been to Plymouth Plantation, where the Pilgrims first settled, about a dozen times. I’ve toured the little huts, seen the reenactments and thought about how miserable they must have been without indoor plumbing. So on Thanksgiving, I can’t help but wonder about the details we don’t get from the history books, like how they made it through that first meal.
For starters, just think about how the Native Americans dressed compared to the Pilgrim women. There had to have been a conversation about that. “Look William, I’m fine if we all get together for a big meal, but those women aren’t coming to my table in just a deerskin skirt and baring the rest… the kids are staring. And you can be sure that Squanto is covering that bare bottom of his, before we sit down to eat turkey.”
And what about the cooking? I mean, keep in mind, these pilgrims had just gotten off the boat from England, which was pretty civilized, all things considered. Oxford was already an actual University, Shakespeare was publishing and performing plays, and horse and buggies were about on a regular basis. Even if they had been poor farmers, they hadn’t been living the commune lifestyle like their Native American counterparts. These women were looking for a better life and instead they got a mutually shared oven and regular bouts of dysentery. They had to have been a little edgy.
There is no way they were all cooking together over one stone fireplace without a few snarky comments like, “Well I’ve always added a little sugar to my yams, Betsy, but if you want to do it the way Squanto’s wife does it, that’s fine by me.” And how about when the squaws actually jumped in to help out. “Listen, ‘Runs with flowers’ — or whatever your name is — don’t tell me how to make Yorkshire pudding. I’m from Yorkshire!”
During the meal, things probably weren’t that much different than they are today. The kids probably had to eat at a separate makeshift table made out something like an old canoe with rocks for chairs. And I bet they fought over who would get the wishbone and who got the bigger piece of pie.
And how about the conversation? It couldn’t have all been sweet. “You know Mary, they told us that John Alden’s wife slipped off the Mayflower, but with all of his shenanigans, I’ll bet you coins to cornbread that she jumped.” And there were probably at least a couple of guys who got together for some homemade mead after dinner, drank a little too much, and started arguing over who made the best thatched roof.
We always imagine that people in history had it more together than we do. They were more polite, had more on their minds and were a little less colorful. Maybe someday we’ll find the long lost journals from that first Thanksgiving dinner.
In the meantime, I’m guessing that people haven’t changed as much as we think. I’ll bet that Myles Standish and John Alden took naps after dinner and long after the dishes were put away, I bet William Bradford was still apologizing to his wife for complaining that her stuffing didn’t taste quite enough like his mother’s.