Around the Nation
A column by Tom Van Dusen
I suppose all families have their quirky traditions and habits, many of which show up on special occasions, and my family certainly is no different… although there are some outside the family who claim otherwise.
Just to lay out the structure: My family consists of my 94-year-old mother, seven siblings of which I’m the eldest and wisest, and a whole passel of grandkids and great grandkids. We mostly live in the Ottawa area and get together several times a year… at least pre-Covid we did!
The continuing Covid crackdown preventing a full Thanksgiving celebration made for a hurtin’ time, man! So much so that I feel a country song comin’ on! Which I won’t sing right now!
The real-life annual Van Dusen Thanksgiving bun toss traditionally draws up to 50 family, friends and a few strangers to my brother Pete and wife Ana’s home in Centrepointe. Covid — or at least the government’s reaction to it — blew that all to hell, with participants splitting off into their own little units and huddling together over pale substitutes for the annual gut-busting turkey dinner.
And that isn’t just any turkey! For the past several years, my brother Mark has raised a small flock at his North Russell hobby farm, picking a suitable candidate for the Thanksgiving table. His selections are always juicier and tastier than store-bought, one of the highlights of the party. Somehow, Mark is also responsible for the function centrepiece.
Every year, he takes to the stair landing at Pete’s place and recites the poem “When the Frost is on the Punkin” by American James Whitcomb Riley. Using a rural vernacular, the poet evokes a simpler time during the fall when life, it seems, revolved mainly around the barnyard and noises arising there.
A favourite of my late father’s, the zany piece somehow became woven into family Thanksgiving activities about 20 years ago. Mark does the reading in various costumes — including as Donald Trump one year — and with an assortment of helpers.
Audience participation is de rigueur, with those in attendance expected to deliver appropriate barnyard noises at regular intervals. For example, when Mark gets to the part describing the cluckin’ of the hens, the crowd is expected to break into boisterous clucking. I think one example is probably sufficient.
Last year, Mark and his helpers handed out fake pig snouts to accentuate the oinking section; this time on Zoom, the only gimmick was — mysteriously — a “fly” stuck to his forehead which he swore wasn’t fake and at one point snatched and gobbled up. Later, he issued a formal declaration that the insect was real, that the standard botfly has an amazing ability to disguise itself as a raisin.
Yes, Zoom eased some of the hurtin’. While the Zoom crowd was much smaller than real life — but still numbered 20-plus — and online technology dumbed down the reading if that was possible, Mark did his best to make the material leap off the screen and remind us that life goes on, just in a different way! The Covid police obviously brainwashed him!
While the Zooming was underway, daughter Victoria was at my place in Prescott preparing a meal for 10 people even though, in reality as opposed to virtually, only she and I were present. Vic said she factored in enough leftovers for both of us for three days. I think she underestimated!
And that was Thanksgiving 2020, pale yet somehow profound. It was gratifying to get together with one of my two kids — my son Oliver was dealing with car trouble in Havelock — even if I busted my current reduced carb diet wide open for one night.
But not to worry! I’ll get back on track later this week… once the leftovers are gone!