My First Kentucky Thanksgiving
It started out okay, though. I got up early and went to the house to help with the cooking. I washed and cut potatoes, helped bring canned goods up from the cellar, watched pots and baking biscuits, and finally helped move furniture and set up extra tables for all the guests. It was hard work, but it was cozy to be in the company of such a cheerful group, with all those good aromas from the roasting and baking. And best of all, we cooks got to sample everything!
Guests began arriving early in the afternoon. By 3:00 as Erica and I were setting tables and laying out bowls of pickles and nuts for snacks, it was getting crowded. When the turkeys were finally brought out in all their steaming glory, I was exhausted and it seemed there were hundreds of people underfoot, although I’m certain it was no more than thirty.
Once we were all seated, Eli offered a prayer of thanks for the food, good company, and all the blessings of the year. And then we started passing the dishes around.
How wonderful! Eli’s prayer had put me in a reflective frame of mind and as I loaded potatoes, beans, turkey, squash, and buttered biscuits on my plate, I thought of all those years of hardship back home, all the years of eating nopales and whatever else my friends and I could scrounge. I thought, too, of the uncertainty of my meals on the long trip that brought me to this place. My daily meals here aren’t always this rich of course, but I never want for anything.
And it was while I was thinking how truly blessed I’ve been, that someone mentioned Sven.
I was sitting next to Erica, who sighed and said, “It’s a shame he’s not here.”
She had really liked him. Even though he had a girlfriend on seemingly every farm in the county and was no good for her, I felt a pang of guilt.
“He’s never been gone this long,” someone else said.
“Probably shot by a jealous husband,” said one of the hands.
This brought a few chuckles, but Erica pushed a piece of squash around her plate and said, “You know that’s not funny. And someone would’ve told us if that was the case.”
“Not necessarily,” Lee said.
“He probably just took sick,” Patrick said from the other end of the table. Because of his age he should’ve been sitting at the children’s table, but he’s taken to studying something called rhetoric and argued his way into a spot at the grownups' table. “Remember that guy Ray a few years ago? The one who everyone thought had run off and it turned out later he was in a hospital in Lexington the whole time?”
A few people wanted to dismiss Patrick’s words because he was only thirteen but I seized on the opportunity to change the course of the conversation. “So what would happen to someone who got sick away from home?” I asked.
As I had hoped, this led to a lively debate that included a discussion of charity hospitals, money, types of severe illness, and injuries. Things had taken a gruesome turn and a hand named Marcus was talking about gangrene and amputations when Sabine put a halt to it all. “Enough. This is supposed to be a happy holiday, when we think of the things we’re grateful for.”
“Glad to not have gangrene,” someone muttered.
“Well, I’m glad to have so many of my friends and neighbors here and that we can all come together for a fine meal like this.” Sabine looked around the table with a pious air. “Now who’s next? Erica, what are you grateful for?”
Erica squirmed beside me, still thinking of Sven. But she dutifully said she was glad for our paddock of healthy two year-olds and for so many promising foals.
This got everyone’s thoughts back on the real business of Northwind, and we each had a chance to remark on the good racing season, adequate hay for the winter, successful breeding season and good sales. I expressed thanks for the opportunity to work with such fine horses and with the young riders, and Lee was grateful for our sturdy barns and for the way everyone had helped get the materials he would need to finish the new barn this winter. “And I’ll be even more grateful when we can have a barn-warming dance,” he said.
Heads nodded and I worried this would turn into a discussion of dancing and romances that would lead us back to talk of Sven. But to my relief, Sabine announced that if everyone had eaten enough, it was time to clear the table and bring out dessert.
I had already seen and smelled the desserts as they were cooking over the last few days, but even so, it seemed a marvel of decadence when half an hour later we got them all laid out on the table— apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, egg custard, plum cake, rhubarb tarts, bread pudding, and stacks of golden cookies. I filled my dessert plate, got a cup of hot cider, and went onto the patio with some of the others, where a few braziers had been set out for warmth against the cool November night. Lee sat beside me and we talked about pie and horses, chimed in on some of the conversations around us, and eventually fell to picking out constellations in the clear night sky as the cold and darkness deepened.
It was late when people finally started saying their good-byes. I went inside to see if Sabine needed help with cleanup, but she had already enlisted the children in that effort, and there wasn’t much left to do. So I let Lee walk me to my barn. We kissed for awhile near the tack room, but when he started fumbling with the buttons of my sweater and suggested we go in my room, I pulled away.
“You’re supposed to be a good Christian boy who doesn’t do such things,” I reminded him.
“Do what? Go in rooms?”
“It’s not nice to think the worst of a man. But you’re right. It would only lead to temptation.”
He seemed annoyed. Well, it’s his own fault for having bragged about his morals in the first place.
I kissed him again to show I had no hard feelings, and then I sent him on his way with the excuse I had to be up early tomorrow morning.
It’s good to have him gone, but it’s starting to get a little lonely, living with the horses month after month. I need to do something about my situation soon, but I’m not sure what. I’m happy with Northwind and my work, but I need a proper home.
But this is Thanksgiving, a day to be grateful. And I am grateful— so grateful for everything! In this past year I successfully crossed over a thousand miles in search of this place that used to be just a dream. In spite of hardships and my own ignorance, I got here safely, got myself established and am well on my way to being able to take the veterinary school entrance exam next summer.
I have friends, a wonderful future ahead of me, and I have much to give thanks for.