The virtual Crane Fiesta is over at Bosque del Apache and by the looks of things it was, as always, a big hit. If you didn’t get a chance to view the Fly-Out live on Facebook, don’t despair, you can still get up early, put on your layers and freeze to death on the flight deck waiting for the birds to wake up. On any morning. All winter long.

I don’t know how cold it will get, but in preparing for winter I went back to my dog-eared facsimile of the Old Farmer’s Almanac from 200 years ago and it gives this advice: “Kill no more squirrels than you want for your pie, nor more partridges than you want for your spit.” Those old farmers sure do have a down-to-earth way of reminding you to live within your means, I guess.

It has gone well below freezing, temperature-wise, already, which is cold enough to bring out my winter coat, and I’ll have to say there’s nothing like reaching into the pocket and finding that ten-dollar bill you forgot about last March. Just in time for Black Friday. Or Small Business Saturday. Or Cyber Monday.  Or maybe just lunch.

For Thanksgiving, I was trying to come up with something profound and not having much luck. I figure with all the craziness going on in the world out there, I’m just grateful to be here so I can keep embarrassing myself in this column.

I did find myself getting sentimental about all the Thanksgivings in my life; from the one when I was a young man and eating a Hungry Man turkey frozen dinner to a feast with friends in Magdalena or Socorro. Not unlike Dickens, sometimes I feel like I keep being visited by the Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past.

The thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that it’s not what you eat, but that you’re sharing with others. Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was just short of chaos at our house. It was myself and my five brothers and sisters crowded around this eight-foot dinner table that my older brother Ed custom-made in shop class. Our parents sat on the far ends. Or rather, our dad on one end and my mother eventually taking time to sit down at the other end.

Eight people, which translates to sixteen hands all reaching for bowls of mashed potatoes and gravy, green peas, candied yams and turkey with dressing. Of course, my father always had first dibs on a turkey leg, but then he had us pass it around the table so each of us could take a big bite. He said it signified our family unity and breaking bread together.

In school, Thanksgiving meant we dressed up in those big-collar pilgrim costumes for a school pageant, or drew turkeys in crayon on construction paper. We all learned about the pilgrims and Plymouth Rock, and how the local Indians – later I learned they were Wampanoag – all sat down in 1621 – 400 years ago – for the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts.

I was reading that there are only two surviving documents that reference the original Thanksgiving harvest meal. The bill of fare included freshly killed deer, cod and bass, and flint, a native variety of corn harvested by the Wampanoag, which was eaten as cornbread and porridge. No mac and cheese, no green bean casserole, no mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce. And a goose or a swan (yikes!) substituting for turkey, so say, historians.

But I was wondering, wasn’t it in 1598 the Europeans from Spain had a meal together with the locals? I mean, 22 years before the Plymouth fete? I’m thinking about the first meal Don Juan Oñate and his “pilgrims” had here in Pilabo Pueblo. That could qualify for a Thanksgiving of sorts, couldn’t it?

One thing I’ll always be grateful for is that my family always seemed to be like-minded on things like politics and religion – those sort of things – and it was seldom that discussions got ugly at the table. If that’s not the case for you, however, and you find yourself not wanting to indulge someone’s conspiracy theory or debate politics, here’s some advice I learned from the above-mentioned Old Farmer’s Almanac: “Take a bite of meat and chew it thoroughly, as if formulating your reply. Then, once it is well chewed and tucked in a corner of your mouth, simulate choking to death.”

Otherwise, use one of these replies. They’ll make you sound smart.

  • “It all depends.”
  • “You can’t generalize.”
  • “C’est la vie.”
  • “…and thus, I die.”

If things get really out of control at the table, try this conversation stopper: “If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, and dry cleaners depressed?”