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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

The First Feast Set the Tone for Centuries

November 25, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

So the Pilgrim in-laws are coming for dinner, traipsing into the Pilgrim home with all those cousins and uncles, relatives whose names you can barely remember from one famine to the next.

"We're here!" they scream, all of them dressed in black, like those people who go to movie premieres. Like people who expect to eat for free.

Pilgrim Mom tells them to take off their black coats and make themselves comfortable. It is a gray November day. Food is scarce. Life is hard. Traffic is terrible. Fortunately, there is no Detroit Lions game to watch, which makes up for a lot of the hardship.

As everyone settles in, there's a knock on the door.

"Look first," says Pilgrim Mom, as two kids race to answer the door, because even back then you didn't just open the front door. You looked first. Even back then, it could've been somebody selling something.

"Mom, it's those weird neighbors!" one kid yells.

"I think they're selling something!" another kid yells.

So a couple of the Pilgrim dads get up and go to the door, which is pretty rare, it being their day off and all.

"What do they want?" the first dad says.

"We have nothing to steal," the other dad says.

"Good point," the first dad says.

So the Pilgrim dads open the door. The locals are carrying something. Trays of food. A turkey. A goose. Five deer. Maybe some Alka-Seltzer.

"How much?" one of the Pilgrim dads asks, rubbing his big Pilgrim stomach.

"It's a gift," the neighbors say.

"Come on in," the Pilgrim dad says warmly. "Got any Cool Whip?"

And the Indians and their families enter the Pilgrim home, which isn't fancy but is comfortable. Done all in black. Black sofa. Black drapes. Black wallpaper.

"Nice wallpaper," says one of the Indian mothers, trying to be nice.

"Thanks," Pilgrim Mom says.

With no game to watch, the Pilgrims and their new friends quickly sit down to eat. They pause first to honor this bounty and their new friendship.

Someone offers a prayer. Someone suggests they join hands in thanks. Some young cousin burps. Then another young cousin burps. Pretty soon all the cousins are burping.

"That's enough burping," Pilgrim Mom says sternly.

One of the uncles burps.

"Very funny," Pilgrim Mom says.

Otherwise, the big dinner goes well. One of the Pilgrim aunts talks about her bunions. One of the Indian uncles says he's had a bad back.

"This venison is delicious," one of the young Pilgrim moms says. "But it goes straight to my hips."

Somebody mentions politics. Another discusses the poor weather. One of the kids accidentally drops the gravy boat in Uncle Bradford's lap.

"Sorry," says the boy.

"Actually, it felt pretty good," says Uncle Bradford, who hasn't had a date since, like, 1612.

One of the Pilgrim moms says that tomorrow, she's starting her Christmas shopping.

"Already?" one of the aunts says.

"Each year, it gets a little earlier," grumbles another Pilgrim aunt.

"I'm trying to beat the crowds," Pilgrim Mom explains.

When they finish dinner, the Indian cousins and the Pilgrim cousins all gather in the living room. They look for something to do. Somebody sneaks a bundle of rags from the kitchen and tosses a perfect spiral across the room.

"Throw it here!" a cousin yells.

"Throw it here!" another cousin yells.

Suddenly, everybody is throwing perfect spirals across the living room.

"Strange game," an Indian dad says.

"Don't worry," a Pilgrim dad says. "It'll never catch on."

Before long, a vase breaks.

"Outside!" Pilgrim Mom yells.

So they take the game outside, where the dads put down small wagers on who will win this strange new sport.

It is a close contest. By the time it is over, the Indian cousins have beaten the spread, after the Pilgrim defensive back slips and falls on the last play.

"Fix," grumbles a Pilgrim dad.

Then the dads all come inside and flop down on the couch, unbuckle their belts and fall asleep near the fireplace. Not for long. Four hours maybe. Five at the most. You can hear the snoring all the way from the Pilgrim kitchen.

"What's that awful noise?" one of the Pilgrim moms says.

"Our future," another mom says.

In the kitchen, dirty plates are still stacked 7 feet high. There is a fine film of gravy over everything, including the Pilgrim moms.

Even by Pilgrim standards, these women look pretty haggard. They look pretty whipped.

One of the Pilgrim dads wanders in.

"You're here to help?" Pilgrim Mom asks excitedly.

"No, I'm here to get a sandwich," Pilgrim Dad says, eyeing the leftovers. "Any turkey left?"

The Pilgrim moms look at one another.

"Whose idea was this?" Pilgrim Mom asks, completely exhausted from this very first Thanksgiving.

"Don't worry," a Pilgrim aunt says. "It'll never catch on."

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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