AN OLD-FASHIONED THANKSGIVING
By Louisa May Alcott
NOVEMBER had come to the New Hampshire hills. The crops were in, and barn, buttery, and bin were overflowing with the harvest that rewarded the summer’s hard work. The big kitchen was a jolly place just now, for in the great fireplace roared a cheerful fire; on the walls hung garlands of dried apples, onions, and corn; up aloft from the beams shone crook-necked squashes, juicy hams, and dried venison—for in those days deer still haunted the deep forests. Savory smells were in the air; on the crane hung steaming kettles, and down among the red embers copper saucepans simmered.
A white-headed baby lay in the old blue cradle that had rocked seven other babies, now and then lifting his head to look out, like a round, full moon, then subsided to kick and crow contentedly, and suck the rosy apple he had no teeth to bite. Two small boys sat on the wooden settle shelling corn for popping. Four young girls stood at the long dresser, busily chopping meat, pounding spice, and slicing apples; and the tongues of Tilly, Prue, Roxy, and Rhody went as fast as their hands. Farmer Bassett and Eph, the oldest boy, were “chorin’ round” outside, for Thanksgiving was at hand, and all must be in order for that time-honored day.
To and fro, from table to hearth, bustled Mrs. Bassett, flushed and floury, but busy as the queen bee of this busy little hive should be. “I do like to begin seasonable and have things to my mind. Thanksgivin’ dinners can’t be drove, and it does take a sight of victuals to fill all these hungry stomicks,” said the good woman, as she gave a vigorous stir to the great kettle of cider applesauce, and cast a glance at the fine pies set forth on the buttery shelves. Tilly, the oldest girl, a red-cheeked, black-eyed lass of fourteen, was grinding briskly at the mortar, for spices were costly, and not a grain must be wasted. Prue kept time with the chopper, and the twins sliced away at the apples till their arms ached, for all knew how to work, and did so now with a will.
“Come, girls, fly round and get your chores done, so we can clear away for dinner jest as soon as I clap my bread into the oven,” called Mrs. Bassett presently, as she rounded off the last loaf of brown bread.
“Here’s a man comin’ up the hill lively!” shouted Sol and Seth, running to the door.
It was a stranger, who threw himself off his horse and hurried up to Mr. Bassett in the yard, with some brief message that made the farmer drop his ax and look so sober that his wife guessed at once some bad news had come.
The man said old Mr. Chadwick stopped him as he passed, and told him to tell Mrs. Bassett her mother was failin’ fast, and she’d better come today. He knew no more, and having delivered his errand he rode away, saying it looked like snow and he must be jogging, or he wouldn’t get home till night.
“We must go right off, Eldad. Hitch up, and I’ll be ready in less’n no time,” said Mrs. Bassett, wasting not a minute in tears and lamentations, but pulling off her apron as she went in. By the time the old yellow sleigh was at the door, the bread was in the oven, and Mrs. Bassett was waiting, with the baby done up like a small bale of blankets.
“Now, Eph, you must look after the cattle like a man, and keep up the fires, for there’s a storm brewin’, and neither the children nor dumb critters must suffer,” said Mr. Bassett, as he turned up the collar of his rough coat and put on his blue mittens, while the old mare shook her bells as if she preferred a trip to Keene to hauling wood all day.
“Tilly, put extry comfortables on the beds tonight, the wind is so searchin’ up chamber. Have the baked beans and Injun-puddin’ for dinner, and whatever you do, don’t let the boys git at the mince pies, or you’ll have them down sick. I shall come back the minute I can leave Mother. Pa will come tomorrer, anyway, so keep snug and be good. I depend on you, my darter; use your jedgment, and don’t let nothin’ happen while Mother’s away.”
“Yes’m, yes’m—good-bye, good-bye!” called the children, as Mrs. Bassett was packed into the sleigh and driven away, leaving a stream of directions behind her. The few flakes that caused the farmer ‘to predict bad weather soon increased to a regular snowstorm, with gusts of wind, for up among the hills winter came early and lingered long. But the children were busy, gay, and warm indoors, and never minded the rising gale nor the whirling white storm outside.
Tilly got them a good dinner, and when it was over the two elder girls went to their spinning, for in the kitchen stood the big and little wheels, and baskets of wool-rolls, ready to be twisted into yarn for the winter’s knitting.
Eph kept up a glorious fire, and superintended the small boys, who popped corn and whittled boats on the hearth; while Roxy and Rhody dressed corncob dolls in the settle corner.
At sunset the boys went out to feed the cattle, bring in heaps of wood, and lock up for the night, as the lonely farmhouse seldom had visitors after dark. The girls got the simple supper of brown bread and milk, baked apples, and doughnuts as a treat. Then they sat before the fire, the sisters knitting, the brothers with books or games, for Eph loved reading.