Category Archives: Cape Cod

November Story

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“The First Thanksgiving” is more than a great book about Thanksgiving,

it is one that encompasses Plymouth Rock and how the area first got

settled. I read this with my oldest three grandchildren, one is 9 and

the others are 8 years old. It was written in 1993, by Jean Craighead

George and illustrated by Thomas Locker.

This book starts out with lovely and dark “paintings” of Cape Cod and

it describes how the mountains of gravel came from the Ice Age that

deposited along the coast of New England. It tells that above the top

of the gravel, the glacier deposited huge boulders from distant places.

This became known as Plymouth Harbor.

The unusual facts about the boulders, include how they are called

“Dedham granite” and they are believed to have arrived from Africa

over 200 million years ago. This is when the continents, scientists say,

broke apart and floated to their current locations.

The largest rock, all 200 tons of it, is described:

“It came to rest in lonely splendor, on a sandy beach in a cove.

This boulder is Plymouth Rock.”

Somehow, years later, this area became inhabited by the Pawtuxets,

a tribe of the Wampanoag:  “The People of the Dawn.”

Their customs included thanking Mother Earth for Her harvests of corn,

beans, squash and pumpkins. They hunted deer, turkey and fished the

ocean and streams. Their celebration annually was named the “Green

Corn Dance” which lasted many days.

In the 1600’s, Englishmen arrived on big ships killing animals with guns

and kidnapped some of the Wampanoag men for slaves. Indians were

afraid of the newcomers, white men, with their loud weapons.

On man tricked to come aboard a ship with the 17 Pawtuxet men, was

named Squanto. His life is complicated, being traded from England to

Spain to eventually Newfoundland, sailing back to London and then

finally back to New England (America) in 1619. When he arrived back

and saw his village, many tears were wept for the homes were merely

skeletons and the mighty crops were reduced to weeds.  All of his

people he believed were dead of European plague.

I thought I might “pause” in this devastatingly real and sad story to

tell you that the grandkids were fascinated. I asked if they were a

little sad, they said, “Yes, but Nana, tell us the rest of the story!”

Squanto traveled northward to Maine, where he joined the tribe

named Massasoit. They were a branch of the Wampanoag Indian

community where he felt accepted.

During this time, over in England, King Jame I was making everyone

join the Church of England. There was a group of people known as

the Puritans, who when they traveled across the ocean, became

known as the “Pilgrims.” Their great ship was called the “Mayflower.”

Their arrival to the New World, was on December 11, 1620. They

landed on Plymouth Harbor beach. The sight of Plymouth Rock.

Once ithe Pilgrims arrived,  they called the natives or citizens that

belonged there, “savages.”

Their Governor John Carver and the Pilgrims all struggled through

the winter, until they were able to plant the seeds they had brought.

The women planted English herbs in “kitchen gardens.” The men

dug deeper into the land, creating huge gardens of vegetables,

wheat and barley.

Samoset, a Massasoit Ambassador, traveled to greet the Pilgrims

in English. They formed a “Peace Treaty” and the Massasoits stayed

in Rhode Island, while Squanto stayed behind in Plymouth.

Squanto showed the men how to catch hibernating eels, showed

them where the herring ran in the Spring, and taught them how

to make “weirs” and nets to catch cod and salmon. He also showed

them how to put herring in the holes they dug for planting, along

with 4-5 corn kernels in the soil. This was not noted as “first use

of fertilizer” but I thought this was very interesting, as did the kids!

The seeds that Squanto shared were considered by historians, ones

from ancestors as far away as Mexico and Peru. These included corn,

squash and pumpkins.

Squanto also taught them where to hunt for the turkeys, showed them

leaf nests of squirrels adn the hideouts of skunks and raccoons. The

Pilgrims were shown where there were blueberry patches to pick from.

In the Late Spring, meadows were filled with wild strawberries where

the children could pick also, sweet roots of Jerusalem artichoke.

In the Mid Summer, cranberry bogs and gooseberry patches’ locations

were shown and shared.

In September, chestnuts, hickory nuts and hazelnuts were found on the

ground under their trees.

The boys were taught how to make dugout canoes and paddle out into

the sea to set lobster pots, made of reeds and sinew. There were all

kinds of edible creatures in the tidal pools to show the Pilgrims, too.

Philosophy of the Native Americans which is the tenet in why Squanto

shared his learnings:

“The Land did not belong to the people; People belong to the Land.”

Such a peaceful and meaningful message right there!

When the following harvest came, after all that Squanto had taught

the Pilgrims, they felt the need to rejoice and invite the Massasoits

to join them in a Feast. Governor William Bradford sent a message

of invitation and the response was 90 guests! For three days they

shared the Feast, played games and the Pilgrims shared their guns

in contests. The Native Americans shared their bows and arrows,

using targets to just enjoy the harvest.

When I heard of the games, shooting for pleasure and the many

dishes that they ate, I thought, WE should do this, too! How many

people sit down and watch football or some form of stationary

activities after they eat their Thanksgiving dinner? We all should

hike around, play games and enjoy each other’s company!

The end of the book summarizes that the Pilgrims called this day a

“Harvest Feast” and the Native Americans called it the “Green Corn

Dance.” They must have included dancing, but the book did not

mention it specifically, it did not show any dancing in the beautiful

painted pictures.

President George Washington declared and named the first national

Proclamation of celebrating Thanksgiving during his Presidency.

President Abraham Lincoln named the annual day of Thanksgiving

to be the last Thursday of November and called it a day of

“thanksgiving and praise.”

In my family, we include two types of meats, two types of dressings,

usually more grilled or fresh vegetables lately (not so many casseroles)

and our big splurges on calories and not so healthy food are lots of

pies and two kinds of potatoes, both baked. Sometimes I will drive

home from my brother and sister in law’s house in Cleveland missing

my Mom as I drive. She and my brothers and sometimes my sister in

law’s children will be there but the rest of my own family are back in’

Delaware.

After my “goodbyes,” I head directly to my son’s house, where Jamie

and Trista still serves green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn

pudding, hamburger mixed in with onions in the stuffing, sweet potato

casserole with marshmallows and pecans mixed in. We finish our meal

with pumpkin pie served with whipped cream in a can (not Cool Whip.)

We eat white rolls with real butter, too!

What are some of your favorite foods, your traditions and if you are

from another country, do you have a harvest time meal?