Ezra's Thanksgivin' Out West by Eugene Field
A Kansas settler's recollections of an oldtime Thanksgiving in
western Massachusetts. Older boys and girls will best appreciate
the tender sentiment of the picture which Eugene Field has painted
so vividly by his masterly use of homely dialect.
EZRA had written a letter to the home folks, and in
it he had complained that never before had he
spent such a weary, lonesome day as this Thanksgiving
Day had been. Having finished this letter, he sat for a
long time gazing idly into the open fire that snapped
cinders all over the hearthstone and sent its red forks
dancing up the chimney to join the winds that frolicked
and gambolled across the Kansas prairies that raw
November night. It had rained hard all day, and was
cold; and although the open fire made every honest
effort to be cheerful, Ezra, as he sat in front of it in the
wooden rocker and looked down into the glowing
embers, experienced a dreadful feeling of loneliness and
"I'm sick o' Kansas," said Ezra to himself. "Here
I've been in this plaguey country for goin' on a year, and—yes,
I'm sick of it, powerful sick of it. What a
miser'ble Thanksgivin' this has been! They don't
know what Thanksgivin' is out this way. I wish I was
back in ol' Mass'chusetts—that's the country for me,
and they hev the kind o' Thanksgivin' I like!"
Musing in this strain, while the rain went patter-patter
on the windowpanes, Ezra saw a strange sight in
the fireplace—yes, right among the embers and the
crackling flames Ezra saw a strange, beautiful picture
unfold and spread itself out like a panorama.
"How very wonderful!" murmured the young man.
Yet he did not take his eyes away, for the picture
soothed him and he loved to look upon it.
"It is a pictur' of long ago," said Ezra softly. "I
had like to forgot it, but now it comes back to me as
nat'ral-like as an ol' friend. An' I seem to be a part of
it, an' the feelin' of that time comes back with the
Ezra did not stir. His head rested upon his hand,
and his eyes were fixed upon the shadows in the firelight.
"It is a pictur' of the ol' home," said Ezra to himself.
"I am back there in Belchertown, with the Holyoke
hills up north an' the Berkshire Mountains a-loomin' up
gray an' misty-like in the western horizon. Seems as if
it wuz early mornin'; everything is still, and it is so cold
when we boys crawl out o' bed that, if it wuzn't Thanksgivin'
mornin', we'd crawl back again an' wait for
Mother to call us. But it is Thanksgivin' mornin', and
we're goin' skatin' down on the pond. The squealin' o'
the pigs has told us it is five o'clock, and we must hurry;
we're goin' to call by for the Dickerson boys an' Hiram
Peabody, an' we've got to hyper! Brother Amos gets
on about half o' my clothes, and I get on 'bout half o'
his, but it's all the same; they are stout, warm clo'es,
and they're big enough to fit any of us boys—Mother
looked out for that when she made 'em. When we go
downstairs, we find the girls there, all bundled up nice
an' warm—Mary an' Helen an' Cousin Irene. They're
going with us, an' we all start out tiptoe and quiet-like
so's not to wake up the ol' folks. The ground is frozen
hard; we stub our toes on the frozen ruts in the road.
When we come to the minister's house, Laura is standin'
on the front stoop a-waitin' for us. Laura is the
minister's daughter. She's a friend o' Sister Helen's—pretty
as a dagerr'otype, an' gentle-like and tender.
Laura lets me carry her skates, an' I'm glad of it, although
I have my hands full already with the lantern,
the hockies, and the rest. Hiram Peabody keeps us
waitin', for he has overslept himself, an' when he comes
trottin' out at last the girls make fun of him—all except
Sister Mary, an' she sort o' sticks up for Hiram, an'
we're all so 'cute we kind o' calc'late we know the
"And now," said Ezra softly, "the pictur' changes:
seems as if I could see the pond. The ice is like a black
lookin'-glass, and Hiram Peabody slips up the first
thing, an' down he comes, lickety-split, an' we all laugh—except
Sister Mary, an' she says it is very imp'lite to
laugh at other folks' misfortunes. Ough! how cold it is,
and how my fingers ache with the frost when I take off
my mittens to strap on Laura's skates! But, oh, how my
cheeks burn! And how careful I am not to hurt Laura,
an' how I ask her if that's 'tight enough,' an' how she
tells me 'jist a little tighter' and how we two keep foolin'
along till the others hev gone an' we are left alone! An'
how quick I get my own skates strapped on—none o'
your new-fangled skates with springs an' plates an'
clamps an' such, but honest, ol'-fashioned wooden ones
with steel runners that curl up over my toes an' have a
bright brass button on the end! How I strap 'em and
lash 'em and buckle 'em on! An' Laura waits for me an'
tells me to be sure to get 'em on tight enough—why,
bless me! after I once got 'em strapped on, if them skates
hed come off, the feet wud ha' come with 'em! An' now
away we go—Laura and me. Around the bend—near
the medder where Si Barker's dog killed a woodchuck
last summer—we meet the rest. We forget all about
the cold. We run races an' play snap the whip, an' cut
all sorts o' didoes, an' we never mind the pick'rel weed
that is froze in on the ice an' trips us up every time we
cut the outside edge; an' then we boys jump over the
air holes, an' the girls stan' by an' scream an' tell us they
know we're agoin' to drownd ourselves. So the hours
go, an' it is sun-up at last, an' Sister Helen says we
must be gettin' home. When we take our skates off, our
feet feel as if they were wood. Laura has lost her tippet;
I lend her mine, and she kind o' blushes. The old pond
seems glad to have us go, and the fire-hangbird's nest in
the willer tree waves us good-bye. Laura promises to
come over to our house in the evenin', and so we break
"Seems now," continued Ezra musingly, "seems now
as if I could see us all at breakfast. The race on the
pond has made us hungry, and Mother says she never
knew anybody else's boys that had such capac'ties as
hers. It is the Yankee Thanksgivin' breakfast—sausages
an' fried potatoes, an' buckwheat cakes, an'
syrup—maple syrup, mind ye, for Father has his own
sugar bush, and there was a big run o' sap last season.
Mother says, 'Ezry an' Amos, won't you never get
through eatin'? We want to clear off the table, fer
there's pies to make, and nuts to crack, and laws sakes
alive! The turkey's got to be stuffed yet!' Then how
we all fly around! Mother sends Helen up into the
attic to get a squash while Mary's makin' the pie crust.
Amos an' I crack the walnuts—they call 'em hickory
nuts out in this pesky country of sagebrush and pasture
land. The walnuts are hard, and it's all we can do to
crack 'em. Ev'ry once'n a while one on 'em slips outer
our fingers and goes dancin' over the floor or flies into
the pan Helen is squeezin' pumpkin into through the
col'nder. Helen says we're shif'less an' good for nothin'
but frivolin'; but Mother tells us how to crack the walnuts
so's not to let 'em fly all over the room, an' so's not
to be all jammed to pieces like the walnuts was down at
the party at the Peasleys' last winter. An' now here
comes Tryphena Foster, with her gingham gown an'
muslin apron on; her folks have gone up to Amherst for
Thanksgivin', an' Tryphena has come over to help our
folks get dinner. She thinks a great deal o' Mother,
'cause Mother teaches her Sunday-school class an' says
Tryphena oughter marry a missionary. There is bustle
everywhere, the rattle uv pans an' the clatter of dishes;
an' the new kitchen stove begins to warm up an' git red,
till Helen loses her wits and is flustered, an' sez she never
could git the hang o' that stove's dampers.
"An' now," murmured Ezra gently, as a tone of
deeper reverence crept into his voice, "I can see Father
sittin' all by himself in the parlour. Father's hair is very
gray, and there are wrinkles on his honest old face. He
is lookin' through the winder at the Holyoke hills over
yonder, and I can guess he's thinkin' of the time when
he wuz a boy like me an' Amos, an' uster climb over them
hills an' kill rattlesnakes an' hunt partridges. Or
doesn't his eyes quite reach the Holyoke hills? Do
they fall kind o' lovingly but sadly on the little buryin'
ground jest beyond the village? Ah, Father knows that
spot, an' he loves it, too, for there are treasures there
whose memory he wouldn't swap for all the world
could give. So, while there is a kind o' mist in Father's
eyes, I can see he is dreamin'-like of sweet an' tender
things, and a-communin' with memory—hearin' voices I
never heard, an' feelin' the tech of hands I never pressed;
an' seein' Father's peaceful face I find it hard to think
of a Thanksgivin' sweeter than Father's is.
"The pictur' in the firelight changes now," said Ezra,
"an' seems as if I wuz in the old frame meetin'-house.
The meetin'-house is on the hill, and meetin' begins at
half-pas' ten. Our pew is well up in front—seems as
if I could see it now. It has a long red cushion on the
seat, and in the hymn-book rack there is a Bible an' a
couple of Psalmodies. We walk up the aisle slow, and
Mother goes in first; then comes Mary, then me, then
Helen, then Amos, and then Father. Father thinks it
is jest as well to have one o' the girls set in between me
an' Amos. The meetin'-house is full, for everybody
goes to meetin' Thanksgivin' Day. The minister reads
the proclamation an' makes a prayer, an' then he
gives out a psalm, an' we all stan' up an' turn 'round
an' join the choir. Sam Merritt has come up from
Palmer to spend Thanksgivin' with the ol' folks, an'
he is singin' tenor to-day in his ol' place in the choir.
Some folks say he sings wonderful well, but I don't like
Sam's voice. Laura sings soprano in the choir, and Sam
stands next to her an' holds the book.
"Seems as if I could hear the minister's voice, full
of earnestness an' melody, comin' from way up in his
little round pulpit. He is tellin' us why we should be
thankful, an', as he quotes Scriptur' an' Dr. Watts, we
boys wonder how anybody can remember so much of
the Bible. Then I get nervous and worried. Seems to
me the minister was never comin' to lastly, and I find
myself wonderin' whether Laura is listenin' to what the
preachin' is about, or is writin' notes to Sam Merritt in
the back of the tune book. I get thirsty, too, and I
fidget about till Father looks at me, and Mother nudges
Helen, and Helen passes it along to me with interest.
"An' then," continues Ezra in his revery, "when the
last hymn is given out an' we stan' up agin an' join the
choir, I am glad to see that Laura is singin' outer the
book with Miss Hubbard, the alto. An' goin' out o'
meetin' I kind of edge up to Laura and ask her if I kin
have the pleasure of seein' her home.
"An' now we boys all go out on the Common to play
ball. The Enfield boys have come over, and, as all the
Hampshire county folks know, they are tough fellers to
beat. Gorham Polly keeps tally, because he has got
the newest jackknife—oh, how slick it whittles the
old broom handle Gorham picked up in Packard's
store an' brought along jest to keep tally on! It is a
great game of ball; the bats are broad and light, and the
ball is small and soft. But the Enfield boys beat us at
last; leastwise they make 70 tallies to our 58, when Heman
Fitts knocks the ball over into Aunt Dorcas Eastman's
yard, and Aunt Dorcas comes out an' picks up the ball
an' takes it into the house, an' we have to stop playin'.
Then Phineas Owen allows he can flop any boy in
Belchertown, an' Moses Baker takes him up, an' they
wrassle like two tartars, till at last Moses tuckers
Phineas out an' downs him as slick as a whistle.
"Then we all go home, for Thanksgivin' dinner is
ready. Two long tables have been made into one, and
one of the big tablecloths Gran'ma had when she set
up housekeepin' is spread over 'em both. We all set
round—Father, Mother, Aunt Lydia Holbrook, Uncle
Jason, Mary, Helen, Tryphena Foster, Amos, and me.
How big an' brown the turkey is, and how good it smells!
There are bounteous dishes of mashed potato, turnip,
an' squash, and the celery is very white and cold, the
biscuits are light and hot, and the stewed cranberries
are red as Laura's cheeks. Amos and I get the drumsticks;
Mary wants the wishbone to put over the door
for Hiram, but Helen gets it. Poor Mary, she always
did have to give up to 'rushin' Helen,' as we call her.
The pies—oh, what pies Mother makes; no dyspepsia
in 'em, but good nature an' good health an' hospitality!
Pumpkin pies, mince, an' apple, too, and then a
big dish of pippins an' russets an' bellflowers, an',
last of all, walnuts with cider from the Zebrina Dickerson
farm! I tell ye, there's a Thanksgivin' dinner for
ye! that's what we get in old Belchertown; an' that's
the kind of livin' that makes the Yankees so all-fired
good an' smart.
"But the best of all," said Ezra very softly to himself,
"oh, yes, the best scene in all the pictur' is when
evenin' comes, when all the lamps are lit in the parlour,
when the neighbours come in, and when there is music
and singing an' games. An' it's this part o' the pictur'
that makes me homesick now and fills my heart with a
longin' I never had before; an' yet it sort o' mellows and
comforts me, too. Miss Serena Cadwell, whose beau
was killed in the war, plays on the melodeon, and we all
sing—all on us: men, womenfolks, an' children. Sam
Merritt is there, and he sings a tenor song about love.
The women sort of whisper round that he's goin' to be
married to a Palmer lady nex' spring, an' I think to myself
I never heard better singin' than Sam's. Then we play
games—proverbs, buzz, clap-in-clap-out, copenhagen,
fox-an'-geese, button-button-who's-got-the-button, spin-the-platter,
go-to-Jerusalem, my-ship's-come-in; and all
the rest. The ol' folks play with the young folks just as
nat'ral as can be; and we all laugh when Deacon Hosea
Cowles hez to measure six yards of love ribbon with Miss
Hepsey Newton, and cut each yard with a kiss; for the
deacon hez been sort o' purrin' round Miss Hepsey for
goin' on two years. Then, aft'r a while, when Mary and
Helen bring in the cookies, nutcakes, cider, an' apples,
Mother says: 'I don't believe we're goin' to hev enough
apples to go round; Ezry, I guess I'll have to get you to
go down cellar for some more.' Then I says: 'All right,
Mother, I'll go, providin' some one'll go along an' hold
the candle.' An' when I say this I look right at Laura,
an' she blushes. Then Helen, jest for meanness, says:
'Ezry, I s'pose you ain't willin' to have your fav'rite
sister go down cellar with you and catch her death o'
cold?' But Mary, who hez been showin' Hiram Peabody
the phot'graph album for more'n an hour, comes to
the rescue an' makes Laura take the candle, and she
shows Laura how to hold it so it won't go out.
"The cellar is warm an' dark. There are cobwebs all
between the rafters an' everywhere else except on the
shelves where Mother keeps the butter an' eggs an'
other things that would freeze in the butt'ry upstairs.
The apples are in bar'ls up against the wall, near the
potater bin. How fresh an' sweet they smell! Laura
thinks she sees a mouse, an' she trembles an' wants to
jump up on the pork bar'l, but I tell her that there
shan't no mouse hurt her while I'm around; and I mean
it, too, for the sight of Laura a-tremblin' makes me as
strong as one of Father's steers. 'What kind of apples
do you like best, Ezry?' asks Laura, 'russets or
greenin's or crow-eggs or bellflowers or Baldwins or
pippins?' 'I like the Baldwins best,' says I, ''coz they
got red cheeks just like yours.' 'Why, Ezry Thompson!
how you talk!' says Laura. 'You oughter be ashamed
of yourself!' But when I get the dish filled up with
apples there ain't a Baldwin in all the lot that can compare
with the bright red of Laura's cheeks. An' Laura
knows it, too, an' she sees the mouse again, an' screams,
and then the candle goes out, and we are in a dreadful
stew. But I, bein' almost a man, contrive to bear up
under it, and knowin' she is an orph'n, I comfort an'
encourage Laura the best I know how, and we are almost
upstairs when Mother comes to the door and
wants to know what has kep' us so long. Jest as if
Mother doesn't know! Of course she does; an' when
Mother kisses Laura good-bye that night there is in the
act a tenderness that speaks more sweetly than even
"It is so like Mother," mused Ezra; "so like her with
her gentleness an' clingin' love. Hers is the sweetest
picture of all, and hers the best love."
Dream on, Ezra; dream of the old home with its dear
ones, its holy influences, and its precious inspiration!—Mother.
Dream on in the faraway firelight; and as the
angel hand of memory unfolds these sacred visions, with
thee and them shall abide, like a Divine Comforter, the
spirit of Thanksgiving.