Thanksgiving then and now

My grandparents may have gone “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” in a horse-drawn sleigh for their holiday gathering, but you and I – if we go to grandmother’s house at all – will be traveling there in our SUV’s, mini-vans and four-door sedans.
My grandmother, indubitably, helped prepare the meal by peeling potatoes or hauling in pumpkins from the garden to be gutted, steamed and pulped before making the pumpkin pie hurrahed in the song.
However, my children and grandchildren help by opening the can of processed pumpkin and measuring out a teaspoon or two from the can of pumpkin pie spices to make a liquid to pour in the prepared pie shell. The setting described in the song was a fast fading memory at the time I sang it in music class as a child. The cover of the November 2003 “Reader’s Digest” magazine reflects just how much things have changed.
“Reader’s Digest” now features the art work of C.F. Payne on its back cover. The November 2003 issue reminded me of Norman Rockwell’s 1940’s “Freedomfrom Want.” In “Freedom from Want” the family sits around the table eagerly welcoming the platter with the perfectly basted and roasted turkey carried by the grandmother who has her white hair neatly pulled back above her kitchen-practical, short-sleeved dress protected with a white apron. The table is set with her best china and goblets. A white, domed covered dish keeps potatoes or vegetables warm.
The grandfather, in dark suit and tie, stands approvingly behind and to the right of the grandmother. Only the eager, happy faces of the rest of the family seated around the table are shown, but the setting implies that everyone dressed for dinner. Payne’s picture modern “Thanksgiving” reflects how much times have changed. Perhaps even the picture being on the back of the magazine – rather than the front where Rockwell’s pictures used to be on the “Saturday Evening Post” – reflects the changes.
Only the women are dressed up in Payne’s picture. The grandmother, also the central person at this Thanksgiving feast, has short hair, wears a blue sweater set and pearls. She, however, has not spent the day in the kitchen basting a turkey – she has been to the store. She is holding open a brown, paper grocery bag while her daughter, in an autumn-colored sweater set, pulls out the black tray holding the store-prepared turkey covered with a disposable plastic dome. A young girl is pulling out a similarly protected pumpkin pie with a paper seal wrapped around it. The men have wandered out from watching the televised football game to check out the day’s haul from the grocery store. An adult son, dressed in a plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves, has already emptied a third sack containing a metal can of whipped cream, a Styrofoam tub of gravy and a can of cranberry sauce Both Rockwell’s 1940’s “Freedom from Want” and Payne’s “Thanksgiving” have 11 interactive family members.
In Payne’s picture, at least one person’s back is turned away from the festivities at the table. Rockwell’s has all 11 looking eagerly forward. Both have one young face smiling out at the viewer at the bottom corner. Rockwell’s face was painted on the right, Payne’s on the left.
Our many horse-powered sleighs will not save us any time to help with the details of the Thanksgiving 2004 meal. Before we get to wherever we are gathering, we will stop off at the store for a last-minute, quick-jog down the deli aisle to pick up the roasted turkey, pumpkin pie or an aluminum tray of the green bean casserole we promised to bring.
But wherever we gather, it will be a time for family and friends to reflect on the past year and enjoy a grand meal together. May you truly have a happy Thanksgiving.