Thanksgiving 2010

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Observe / Analyze

Posted: 11/24/2010

I was walking along the Charles River in Boston last week on a remarkably unremarkable, chilly afternoon. The trees were mostly bare, the sky was eerily gray, the grass was brown, and the few joggers who passed by were bundled up to fight off the wind. The day reminded me of a Boston Globe column by Sam Allis, The hard season, published back in November 2001.

I have a drawer full of articles and stories too good for the recycle bin that I read a couple of times a year to remind me of their message and/or because I love the way they are written. I’ve quoted a passage from The hard season several times over the years because it captures the spirit of late fall and Thanksgiving so well for me.

A few things I’m thankful for this year:

  • Everyone who is serving our country in the military, and everyone who has previously served.
  • All the workers who work on Thanksgiving and every other holiday; police officers, firefighters, EMT’s, restaurant, gas station, transportation and convenience store workers, to name a few. (Please add anyone I missed in the comments section.) I’ll add high school football referees if my teams win on Thanksgiving…
  • My family, extended family and friends.
  • Everyone who has read and contributed to the mission of Server Not Servant. I am truly grateful.

 Boston Sunday Globe November 11, 2001

 The Observer-Sam Allis

 The hard season

October is our best shot at the big time. It is the Roman candle that propels New England past the likes of Aspen and Santa Fe into the limelight each fall. Everybody and his grandmother may go west for snow but they come here for the technicolor of our sugar maple.

October is also an L.L. Bean of a month for rural wannabe’s. Its smoky afternoons are benign and its nights crisp. It’s easy to be a Yankee under these conditions. You smear dirt on your new hunting jacket and wash the dorkiness out of the plaid flannel. You work up some blisters and scrapes for good measure and make sure to get some mud on the SUV.

Friends come from the city to sit around the kitchen table and declare their intention to quit the urban madness once and for all. You can count on the following pronouncement at some point in the conversation: “No one ever said on their death bed they wished they’d spent more time at the office.” There is a pinot noir on the oil cloth, a cassoulet on the stove, and a black Lab prone by the fire. So what’s not to like here?

The hard season. It’s the one that lives between the leaves and the snow from young November to Advent. It sends city folk scurrying back to the Central Artery and country folk to the woodpile with a chainsaw. Say goodbye to the warm and fuzzy pretender and hello to the real thing.

It is in this stretch, not October, that you find the soul of New England. It is in this stretch, not October, that you locate the sweet spot of a true Yankee. The hard season, quite simply, is the most profound time of our calendar.

There is nothing funny about it. The days carry the scent of impending hardship and the isolation of a northern winter. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke put it this way:

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.

Whoever is alone will stay alone, will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,

And wander on the boulevards, up and down,

Restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Rilke can get a tad dark, but he is on to something real that exists after the trees are bare: You’d best get your act together before it’s too late. Take care of your own business because no one else will. That is the Yankee imperative. It may not apply in Tucson, but it sure does here.

For starters, November brings darkness. Daylight savings dies with its optimism at the end of October, yet we are still shocked each year by headlights in 5 o’clock traffic. If you’re vulnerable to depression, brace yourself. Some afflicted with the malady escape south or west for the winter Others buy those newfangled lights that claim to ape the properties of sunlight. I confess that while I grew up here I find Yankee darkness less amusing with every passing year.

November is complicated because it invites big thoughts along with small chores of survival. You ponder the passage of time and take life’s inventory as you get out of the woolens. You rake leaves, the dumbest activity ever invented. Then it’s on to do battle with the dreaded tree people who may deliver half cords of green wood at exorbitant prices if you’re not careful. Next are your chimney people who tell you to line your fireplaces at $2,000 a pop or risk catastrophic fires. You have no idea if they’re charlatans. You’re out of your league.

And what about kindling? Just try finding any of that stuff in Boston for less than the price of caviar. Do you cave and buy the low-rent brick fire-starters? Do you burn the entire Sunday Globe to get a fire going? Or do you say the hell with the whole thing and opt for space heaters?

The list goes on. Windows need weather stripping. Gutters need cleaning. What about a shoveler? Is last year’s guy still around? Are those jumper cables in your trunk? You dismiss this check list at your peril.

But November, the essence of this hard season, is the improbable belle of the New England year. Like a loud plaid, October looks almost tacky next to its muted palette of browns and grays. It owns a color that lives all by itself somewhere between gold and platinum in fields and meadows. It seduces with subtlety.

The hard season, to be sure, is an acquired taste. The land is empty, the trees naked and spooky. The wind is now an unfriendly thing. But it is a celebration of lichened stone walls and the contours of our hills, revealed once again, before they disappear under snow and black ice.

Better still. November is crowned by the great American holiday, Thanksgiving. We invented it here. It is a perennial winner because it carries none of the emotional baggage of Christmas and the religious spin is light. As Garrison Keillor wrote, it’s a peasant holiday where all you have to do is sit down and eat.

The feast is a requiem for the soft days and a tocsin for the harsh ones to come. The joy of autumn dissipates fast in the dwindling light. That’s why we should scour the countryside like beagles and partake of this hard season that imbues our lives with meaning.

Posted with permission from Sam Allis (email:

Happy Thanksgiving


4 Responses to “Thanksgiving 2010”

  1. paula blum says:

    It was very quiet in the house when I read this…That coupled with the article made it seem like the quiet season it is going to be. We used to have the same conversation about the snowplow guy when we lived in northern Wisconsin.

  2. nina says:

    I don’t think the winter is my favorite time of year but I am thankful I live in a part of the world that has all four seasons. Yes, it gets dark early, but when dinner is done for the night I can get in my pjs and not feel guilty because it is already dark!
    Remember when shopping for the holidays try to be extra considerate of those working retail as we take a lot of crap this time of year and try not to shop at those stores that are open on Thanksgiving or open up at midnight, etc. These businesses are not getting that much more business and are putting a lot of stress on employees who get paid a little extra and while it is supposed to be voluntary it actuality rarely is. I am sure most of them would rather be home in bed!
    I am thankful for my nice customers and the fact that I have co-workers that can share a laugh over the crazy, mean, and nasty customers.
    Happy holidays to us all!

  3. I forgot to include medical professionals, toll booth collectors and hotel workers. Thank you all for working yesterday.

  4. Jorunn says:

    As a nurse who worked Thanksgiving, you are very welcome and I sincerely hope you don’t need me.

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