On Thanksgiving, I built a fire in the woodstove. I baked chocolate chip cookies and I read story after story in “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout.

Set in Maine, the book offers descriptions of the color of the ocean and the changing weather on the bay that carried me back to my ancestral home in Rhode Island. At 3 p.m. the sun was heading to bed when I called relatives in Massachusetts and shared Thanksgiving greetings and stories. I learned my great great grandfather made two trips west during the gold rush.

As I talked, I turned and saw a red fox 10 yards from my window. But my elbow gently bumped the pane glass and the sound stopped the fox in her tracks. She turned tail and trotted into the trees

At 5 p.m., I bundled up, tucked a plate of warm-from-the oven cookies and a bowl of salad of organic greens with goat cheese, dried cranberries and walnuts into a bag and started up the hill to my neighbor’s house.

A few weeks earlier, I was walking to campus and passed Chris, who was in front of his house untangling lines of lights. I waved and stopped to introduce myself.

“Putting up Christmas lights?”

“Not Christmas lights,” Chris said then. “You’ll see.”

Now when I walk to and from campus in the dark. I pass the giant eye with eyelashes blinking with bright-colored lights. The neighborhood holiday landmark was aglow when I knocked and Chris answered.

He grabbed a book from his shelf and began searching for connections on our ancestral lines. (We had discovered we shared New England roots during our driveway chat weeks earlier.) His people hail from Sandwich, Massachusetts, and Chris was certain if we went back far enough, we’d find our ancestors had met.

Chris was one of two people—both who’d met me but once—who inquired about my Thanksgiving plans. I was deeply moved by the kindness of Nancy, who I met in a yoga workshop, and Chris, my neighbor, who recognized that I was far from my friends, family and all things familiar and invited me to their homes to share their celebrations.

As other guests entered the house stomping snow from their boots and shedding coats, Chris set aside his search and the book. He joined his wife, Anna, in the kitchen, turning his attention to the three turkeys that needed carving. Guests added bottles of wine, vegetable dishes and desserts to the bounty Chris and Anna had prepared.

Takashi, originally from Tokyo, arrived with Katrin, from Germany, pregnant with their first child and bearing a banana bread with cranberry icing. Julie arrived with her husband, Len, a filmmaker at the Museum of the North. Julie’s sister, Toni, who heads the University of Alaska Fairbanks Yoga Club, came with her husband, John. With Carol, the museum director, Juliet, an artist, and me, we were one shy of a dozen around the table.

At the start of the meal, Anna invoked a Thanksgiving tradition, asking each guest to name three things he or she was thankful for.

“Turkey. Turkey. Turkey,” Takashi said, and everyone laughed.

Platters with meat from three different turkeys passed from hand to hand. A smoked turkey. A natural turkey with butter and herbs. A brined organic turkey burnished with rosemary and olive oil.

The gluten-free sweet potato rolls, homemade cranberry sauce and butternut squash drizzled with maple syrup and garnished with ground walnuts made the rounds.

Conversation circled from the anthropology and artistry of Native masks to the public’s lack of awareness of the toll of war on returning soldiers to how the attributes of pot have changed over the decades.

Desserts as delicious and engaging as the conversation topped off the meal. Anna offered a homemade cranberry pie with gluten-free crust. Juliet brought a wickedly divine flourless chocolate cake. Katrin’s banana bread with chocolate chips had hands reaching for seconds. And my chocolate chip cookies did not go unnoticed.

Sated, guests pushed away from the table and joined in the clean up. Just as people were wrapping up, Anna reached in the refrigerator and discovered the bottle of Muscat she had chilled. A dessert wine to clear the palate and close the evening. We lingered.

We sunk into couches and chairs to savor the fragrant wine and a few more moments together. Conversation turned from holiday travel, the TSA, body scans and civil rights to our history and our feisty, freedom-seeking ancestors and founding fathers. Chris mentioned that one state constitution encourages revolution when rights are violated. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a copy of Article 10 of the New Hampshire (the Live Free or Die state…a motto we all agreed was cool) constitution.

I’m paraphrasing now, because unlike Chris, I cannot quote Article 10 verbatim. It states the people have a right…in fact, a duty…to revolt if the government fails them.

Raise a glass to revolution, freedom and friendship.

And to the kindness of neighbors.

 

 

 

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