Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Pilgrim’s Progress

In the childhood oddness of growing up in Silver Creek was the annual Thanksgiving pageant. Unlike the all-inclusive Christmas festivities where all the local churches participated, the Thanksgiving pageant was all Our Lady of Angels.

Which is weird, because the pilgrims weren’t Catholic. But Father Sheehy decided to opt it as an OLA holiday and so the pageant was born. Father Sheehy didn’t actually claim that the pilgrims were Catholic, but he did rewrite history somewhat to have them saying the Hail Mary every time someone turned around.

I was in 7th grade and really wanted to be one of the Indians. Which meant, of course, that I was cast as 4th Pilgrim from the Left. In retrospect, considering that the whole event was about as politically correct as a Nuremberg rally, I am so glad that no blackmail photos exist of me as an Indian. But back then I was pissed. The Indians had all the fun. They got to whoop around and say things like “White man need food. We give cranberry sauce.” No….really….that was in the script.

Meanwhile, as a pilgrim, my sole contribution to the event consisted of a lot of nodding as the boys had all the good lines. Other than that, nothing except an itchy costume that smelled like last year’s pilgrim and was so tight at the collar that it left a red line around my neck when I finally took it off. I also had the requisite white pilgrim hat and black shoes with buckles.

I woke up Thanksgiving day wanting nothing more than to watch the balloons in the Macy’s parade on TV and was immediately roped in to my mother’s usual holiday panic. Every year she’d by some poor turkey the size of a Volkswagen and every year she’d have no clue how long to cook it. It would be 9 am and she’d be there with her arm up a turkey butt shoving stuffing into it and telling us not to fill up on corn flakes as dinner would be early. In her mind, nobody should be allowed to eat from noon on Wednesday until Thanksgiving dinner itself. And, given her cluelessness on turkey cooking, that dinner could be anywhere from 1 pm to 10 pm, depending upon when she panicked and put the bird in. Invariably she’d look at the turkey at some point, typically two hours before she thought it would be done, and pronounce the turkey cooked. Then we’d all be shanghaied into frantically mashing potatoes, making gravy and, of course, opening a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup for the dreaded Green Bean Surprise Casserole with Canned French’s Onion Rings on Top. I lived in fear of this dish every year. I still do. Oh yes, and the last thing on the table was always canned cranberry sauce. The kind where you can see the rings of the can on it when you tip it into the dish.

That year I’d hoped pilgrim duty would get me out of KP. But the 47-pound turkey was upsetting mom’s delicate equilibrium, which meant all hands on deck. I was set to peeling potatoes – not wanting to point out to my already mad mother that we wouldn’t be boiling them for at least another four or five hours. But I was able to snag the one seat at the kitchen table that afforded a view of the TV in the living room so I did get to see Smokey the Bear float along Broadway. But I couldn’t hear the marching bands – just mom muttering to herself weird alchemy about poultry pounds, oven temps, and timing. When she was so distracted by advanced math that she couldn’t pour on the guilt, I told her I needed to get into costume and head down to the church. She nodded. I ran.

I would have preferred to put on my costume at OLA, but it was a two-people job and I’d rather get help from Kathleen or Diane rather than one of the church ladies. They always smelled like dead flowers and I was vaguely afraid of them.

Diane was looking for an excuse to get out of celery chopping (celery being the only fresh vegetable anywhere near our Thanksgiving table). So she volunteered to tie me into my pilgrim suit and walk with me to the church. But she lied about the church bit. As soon as we were out the door she dumped me to go flirt with Keith Vandersloot and I was left to walk the few blocks to the church alone. Ridiculous in my pilgrim costume.

Old people smiled. Everyone who was in school with me but not in the pageant laughed. I tried to swallow in my tight collar and found myself daydreaming of wild ad-libs during the play. I had a big crush Timmy Ryan who played the Indian chief and envisioned myself saying “Screw the Hail Mary, I’m running off with Chief Blue Eyes Like the Sky in Spring. (OK, he was just called “Indian Chief” in the program, but Timmy did have great eyes.

Mrs. Murchison was, as usual, in her garden and told me I looked just like Priscilla Alden. Which confused me because I thought she meant I looked like Vicky Templeton (the bitch), who was playing Priscilla in our show. And I looked nothing like her.

Shannon Carey was sympathetic enough to my plight to not say anything when she saw my pilgrim self walking down the street – but I did hear her laugh as I went by. And even one of Silver Creek’s police cars slowed down, perhaps making sure I wasn’t hiding a bootleg turkey under that black dress.

By the time I got to OLA I felt like an idiot and had no good thoughts about Father Sheehy, Thanksgiving and, especially, the pilgrims. The pilgrims were all idiots who didn’t know how to dress and who ruined a perfectly good day by giving us canned cranberries and making small children put on silly costumes to recite embarrassing lines.

Not even the thought of pie (Sara Lee, of course) could redeem the day for me.

But then I saw the god that was Timmy Ryan. And even though he looked wild and romantic in his Indian costume, he also seemed to be as uncomfortable as I. Our eyes met over the baptismal fount. “This is it,” I thought. “This ridiculous costume will be worth it if it finally brings Timmy and I together as we should be.” But all he said was “hey” before walking on and talking to…..Vicky Temple (the bitch).

Sigh….there’s really nothing to be thankful for when you’re in 7th grade.

1 comment:

Duke said...

We all ate that weird cranberry mystery jell in a can. I didn't know any other type existed until I was a teen.

The funny thing is, I still like it. It's not real cranberry sauce. I'm not sure what it is. A jelly made from cranberry juice? Congealed elmer's glue with artificial flavoring? Either one could be correct or maybe it's a creation from the warped minds of 1950's scientists who thought we'd all live better through chemistry.

Anyway, I had some today with the turkey. A thanksgiving meal doesn't seem right without it.