Richard piled up the bird carcasses on his plate. James filled his with crunchy severed wings. This Thanksgiving we roasted an abundance of birds: turkey, goose, pheasant, partridge, cornish hen, squab, quail. These two men helped roast and carve. They chose flesh from close to the bone. Margaret Visser describes the roast as “an echo of the ancient ritual of the impromptu meal at the scene of the hunt.” A modern-day roast begins with “firemaking outside the house — though not necessarily very far from it.” For many centuries, fish, birds, and especially whole beasts were roasted and “placed before the family as a result of male enterprise and triumph; and men, with their knives, have insisted on carving it up, and even cooking it before the expectant and admiring crowd.” Visser argues that the ritual of the roast expresses “the unity of the group that consumes it” — and that the dining table “represents, as no other piece of furniture can, the family as a whole. If any member of the family should be absent, the empty place at the table is a mute reminder of the missing person.”
Wait, what was that? This year, the reminders weren’t mute at all. They were loud, heartbreakingly so, and for a while there, I didn’t know what to do about it. And then, after a little time, after a little conversation, food, and wine, the reminders transformed themselves into something providential. They brought more meaning to my memories — and, for that matter, to the present moment. The engine house is saturated with over a hundred years of ghosts and memories. This Thanksgiving, new memories have been added: of James’ expert firewood-stacking strategy, of Richard’s carving-tool set and deft cuts, of his boys and James interacting by the hearth, roasting chestnuts, grapes, and sausages. These and many others join the memories of the people whom I miss.
Thank you, especially: Alexandra Rose, Anja, Brian, David, James, Janet, Lans, Lindsay, Stacy, Steve, Richard, and Rosalind. And to Margaret Visser, whose book The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning provided the above citations.