Over the last few weeks, signs of Fall have finally arrived. My commute over the draw bridge is no longer framed by a harbor full of boats headed out early in search of stripers or sails catching the morning breeze. That image has been replaced by the lonely ferry plying gray waters and a few fisherman hunting scallops. As the weather turns toward winter, checking the outdoor thermometer takes priority upon waking in preparation for adding more layers, and my anticipation of Thanksgiving grows quickly! After all, it is my favorite holiday – sure, the the travel can be a nightmare and preparations can be too much to bear, but once we get past that and settle into our destination, the warmth of this holiday so rich with meaning takes over.
Thanksgiving is a homecoming of sorts, the ultimate gathering of friends and family. Mine is usually spent catching up with family members, playing games such as Scrabble or UNO, watching the Macy’s day parade and football games, and of course visiting with friends because they are all home too. I appreciate that there is not a huge shopping component to this Holiday…the focus is on coming together and relaxing with the ones you love…less stress, more time. I have purposefully pushed back on the whole Black Friday event, as I find it to be completely disruptive to this atmosphere.
Instead, if we are lucky enough to spend the holiday at home on Martha’s Vineyard, we take time to hike the trails at Felix Neck, or walk down to Cedar Tree Neck to check out the latest additions to the lobster trap structure made from found objects washed up on the beach. If we are in Skaneateles, New York, horse drawn wagon rides, sitting by the fire, and the Dickens Christmas festival are favorites. For me, finding a few minutes to take a cat nap and recharge for the next round of events is a bonus. For the kids, it’s getting lost in making turkey-themed crafts, or imagining adventures outside.
Our Thanksgivings are never perfect – in fact, they can be downright chaotic. I can’t share photos of a beautifully cooked Turkey or exquisitely set dining table, and there’s never a Thanksgiving without some sort of family drama. I can remember vividly the years when the gravy turned out all wrong (we had to resort to the kind in a jar), or the time the dog was caught eating off the cocktail table, or when the sweet potatoes and marshmallows erupted in flames under the broiler, or the when the creamed pearl onions slid off the trivet and onto the floor…Martha Stewarts we are not!
There is a steep learning curve to hosting a Thanksgiving dinner; trussing a turkey is not part of the merit badges in Boy Scouts and carving it is not something you can practice at the table, so you learn as you go. As novices, we have reached for some very high bars with our past menus – there were five course dinners with items like mini cod cakes with roasted onion mayo; butternut squash bisque with curried croutons; Brussels Sprouts with pancetta, chestnuts and olives; oven roasted applesauce with rum; cider glazed turkey with corn bread stuffing; and maple pear pie! I still save the recipes and menus as badges of honor. There is always such a fantastic blend of sweet and savory that just keeps you wanting more.
Before I knew my wife Guinevere, stuffing was nondescript for me, just another side. But her family introduced me to adding sausage to the “dressing “and it hasn’t been the same since…in fact, it’s tough to accept it any other way now. Thinking about the sweet potatoes and mini marshmallows, roasted turkey with a crispy skin, stuffing, and the warm buttered rolls makes me hungry just typing the words, so maybe in this regard it is good that Thanksgiving only comes once a year!! Like most people, our Thanksgiving meals have evolved to reflect the area in which we live…now it often involves a New England twist; lobster bisque, fresh scallops, or fish chowder. This year we will incorporate smoked bluefish from the Net Result, and maybe the Hutker family Cranberry Orange pie.
Of course, there are always long-standing debates like the best way to prepare a turkey; brining, roasting, smoking; to stuff the bird or not; dark meat versus white meat; canned or fresh cranberry sauce. But it is fun to watch it all come together in a magical way over the dinner table. And then there are the leftovers; a huge warm sandwich of sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, mayo, a little salt and pepper all stacked on warm sourdough bread is the perfect follow-up the next day.
And all too fast it will be over, with the first hints of the next holiday showing up in the form of a Santa Claus sighting and holiday music. But Thanksgiving – with its roots in celebrating the fall harvest, pilgrims seeking better opportunities, overcoming adversity, and only surviving through the generosity of the Native Americans, and having solidified its place in our cultural fabric when President Lincoln made it a national holiday to help mend the divisions fueled by our Civil War – is truly an American holiday.
All of this resonates deeply with me….and I never miss this opportunity to look introspectively and take stock of all that I have and how lucky we are. Taking a step back from all of the commotion to watch our children Charlotte and Anderson spend time with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins developing their own memories is so fulfilling. I give thanks for what we have, but perhaps I shouldn’t wait for this one moment to do so…I need to turn around more often and let everyone know how I feel. So, thank you to my friends and family, to my sister for bearing the brunt of the holiday gatherings, to my parents, to my wife for being you and giving us such wonderful kids, and to my children for bringing such joy into our lives.
Let’s revel in the sheer happiness of Thanksgiving!
About the Author –
Matt Cramer is an Associate who works out of Hutker Architects’ Martha’s Vineyard office. He and his family live in Oak Bluffs, where he volunteers as Vice Chairman of the Cottage City Historic District Commission. This year, the Cramers will travel to Albany, NY, to spend time with Guinevere’s side of the family.